Liver Pain: Location, Causes and Treatment
The liver is the largest internal organ of the human body, weighing about 1½ kilograms. It is situated in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen below the rib cage.
What the Liver Does
The liver serves hundreds of functions in the body. These include:
- Detoxification of hormones, drugs, toxins, and waste products
- Secretion of bile
- Production of proteins required for blood clotting
- Production of chemicals that aid in digestion
- Production of hormones
- Decomposition of red blood cells
- Production of amino acids
- Metabolism of carbohydrates: synthesis, breakdown and storage (as glycogen)
- Metabolism and synthesis of proteins
- Metabolism of fats
The liver is essential to life; although some of its functions can be replaced for a few weeks by dialysis, it is so vital that if it fails, a liver transplant may be required to save a life.
Usual Location Of Liver Pain: Upper Right Abdomen
Location of liver pain (medically known as hepatalgia), is typically felt in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just beneath the rib cage. The pain is often vague and dull, but it can turn sharp and severe and may occur with back ache. Although the liver itself doesn’t have pain receptors, the membrane that covers it does, and if the liver swells it exerts pressure on those receptors and causes pain.
Sometimes when liver issues are causing pain, the pain seems to be coming from the right shoulder.
In addition to problems with the liver itself, there are other possible causes of pain in or near the upper right abdomen:
- Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach due to increased acidity)
- Ascites (buildup of fluid in the abdomen)
- Other abdominal issues
- Kidney pain
- Bile duct issues
- Intestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome
- Pneumonia in the lower right lung
Consult a doctor for help finding out the cause of pain that seems to be in the area of the liver.
For further info on liver location.
Causes of Liver Pain
Pain in the liver could have a variety of causes:
- Hepatitis or inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by viruses or alcohol abuse.
- Fatty liver, or steatosis, the accumulation of large amounts of fat in the liver. Fatty liver may be caused by alcohol abuse, or by obesity or metabolic syndrome.
- Damage caused by toxins or drugs.
- Liver cancer. Cancer may originate in the liver as a result of cirrhosis, viral infections, or chronic alcohol abuse, or it may occur when cancer elsewhere metastasizes (relocates) to the liver.
- Cirrhosis of the liver, or replacement of much of the liver by scar tissue; this can be a long-term result of viral infections (such as hepatitis B and C) or alcohol abuse.
- Rare inherited disorders, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease, which can cause hepatitis, cirrhosis and eventually liver failure.
Alcohol Abuse and Liver Pain
Alcohol abuse is a major cause of many painful liver conditions. The liver plays a pivotal role in filtering toxins, like alcohol, out of the blood. When alcohol is consumed, it first gets absorbed into the blood stream from the stomach and intestines, and then most of it gets broken down by the liver. Thus heavy drinking, by overworking the liver, can cause inflammation, fatty liver, and eventually cirrhosis or cancer.
Symptoms Often Associated With Liver Pain
Symptoms of a malfunctioning liver are varied, and may go unnoticed in the beginning. Liver disease can cause many symptoms such as:
- A yellow color to the eyes and skin
- Sharp and stabbing pain
- Excessive sweating
- Strong body odor
- Bad breath
- Reddish palms and soles, accompanied by itching and inflammation
- Loss of appetite
- Joint pain
- Weight loss
- Abdominal bloating
- Nausea and vomiting
- Dark-colored urine
- Swelling of the testicles
- High fever
- Rapid heart rate
Diagnosis of Liver Problems
It is very important to diagnose what is causing liver pain. Here are some of the tests your doctor may use to find the cause of the pain:
- Urine and blood tests are very useful: levels of bilirubin, liver enzymes (SGPT and SGOT) and alpha fetoprotein show how well the liver is functioning.
- If liver pain is associated with other symptoms, endoscopy and ultrasound are done to identify the extent of liver damage from cirrhosis or fatty liver.
- Liver biopsy (taking a tissue sample from the organ for analysis) is less common than it used to be but can still help diagnose liver problems.
Liver Pain Treatment
The treatment of liver pain depends on its cause. Appropriate and timely diagnosis will help in designing an adequate treatment plan. Drugs and surgery can treat some liver diseases. Liver transplants may be required as a last-ditch effort to save a patient with liver disease.
To have a healthy liver your whole life, you will want to avoid alcoholism, obesity, and exposure to hepatitis viruses. While supplements are no subsitute for medical attention—if you have pain, you should go to a doctor—there is some evidence that milk thistle extract benefits some liver diseases.