The liver is an important organ in the human body that is responsible for numerous vital functions. These functions include metabolism of protein, fat and carbohydrate, deamination of proteins, detoxification of the body, storage of vitamin and nutrients and synthesis of clotting factors. Due to disease conditions and harmful life style practices, the liver become strained and may fail if prompt and adequate medical treatment is not provided. Statistically, liver failure ranks among the top 5 causes of death worldwide. In this article, we will discuss 8 Key Symptoms of liver failure you should not ignore.
This is the yellowish discoloration of the eyes and skin caused by the accumulation of bilirubin in the blood. In health, the liver is tasked with the metabolism of bilirubin which is a pigment gotten from broken down red blood cells. In liver disease, the metabolism of bilirubin is impaired, allowing for its accumulation in the body. It is important to note that bilirubin is excreted mainly via feaces. This is usually the first symptom of liver disease noticed by the patients or by close relatives. It is important to consult your physician whenever you observe a change in your eye colour to yellow.
2. Right upper abdominal pain
In humans, the liver occupies mainly the right upper abdomen hence pain felt around that region strongly suggest the presence of liver disease and possible liver failure. Never ignore any abdominal pain, especially pain felt at the right upper region because it is among the earliest symptoms suggestive of liver failure.
3. Abdominal swelling
Abdominal swelling is not an uncommon symptom associated with liver failure. In certain cases of liver failure, the liver is enlarged thus causing distension and swelling of the abdomen. This distension may be felt as fullness of a mass (swelling) originating from the right upper abdomen. The abdominal swelling may also be from the accumulation of fluid associated with liver failure within the abdomen. This is referred to as ascites.
4. Loss of body muscle mass
Although not specific for liver failure, it is key symptom that shouldn’t be ignored. The liver is involved in the synthesis of amino acids which are used as building block in peripheral muscles. With disease and failure of the liver, the liver cannot cope with its synthesis function hence muscles begin to breakdown causing the loss of muscle mass in the arms and legs.
5. Vomiting of blood
At the lower end of the esophagus, there are tiny blood vessels present. This forms a ring of blood veins from the liver. In liver failure from cirrhosis (shrunken nodular liver caused by the deposition of fibrous tissue) this tiny blood vessels gets enlarged, engorged with blood and may bleed spontaneously without any obvious provocation or may bleed with wrenching. This lead to massive vomit of blood which is usually life threatening. A physician should be consulted whenever there is vomit of blood.
This is frequently seen in men with severe liver disease and liver failure. It is referred to as the enlargement of the rudimentary male breast giving it the shape of a female breast. The breast in this circumstance may grow in such a way that it may distort the shape or be a source of ridicule and embarrassment to the man. However, several other conditions may cause gynecomastia but its presence may be a solid pointer to liver failure.
7. Bruising and easy bleeding
The liver as part of its functions is to synthesize majority of substance responsible for clotting of blood whenever there is an injury. These substances are referred to as ‘coagulation factors’. In liver failure, these coagulation factors are not produced thus the individual is at risk of spontaneous bleeding from the slightest provocation. This bleeding may also occur as internal, leading to death within minutes if not treated promptly.
This is usually a late symptom yet classical and highly suggestive of liver failure. It is seen as the distension of veins of the abdominal wall radiating from the umbilicus in a ‘medusae’ like pattern (medusa snake head). This is because of the opening of channels at points where the liver and systemic blood vessels meet. These patients usually have distended abdomen with caput medusae.