Location of Liver
Liver is one of the primary organs of the vertebrates whose multifunctionality contributes to their survival. It is located strategically in the pelvic region of the abdomen below the diaphragm and the ribs. Besides being the largest gland producing bile which facilitates the process of digestion and the emulsification of lipids, it has a multiplicity of functions to perform such as filtering and removing the toxins from the human body, the synthesis of proteins by the production of amino acids, the conversion of glucose to glycogen and its storage as well as its maintenance in the body, the production of hormones and urea, the storage of minerals and vitamins, the breakdown of food particles and other metabolic activities necessary for survival.
Being such an important organ it is also vulnerable to several diseases which may halt its functioning and render it a poor performer. Any underlying condition affecting the functions of the liver causes liver pain. It may be caused by a number of reasons such as the accumulation of excess fat on the liver, inflammation of the liver causing cirrhosis due to alcoholism, and other cases of liver damage namely Gilbert’s syndrome, Wilson’s disease, Hepatitis, and other cases of autoimmune deficiency. All such diseases occur if the liver is not taken care of.
Picture 1: Image showing location of liver in the human body.
Where is liver pain located?
Where is liver pain felt? Liver pain is far different from kidney, back or abdominal pain and is usually felt in a dull nature at the upper right quadrant beneath the rib cage. At times the nature of the pain in the liver may be really sharp and can be accompanied by a back pain.
Fatty Liver Pain
The accumulation of excees fat in the liver causes it to swell leading to a disease called steatosis and its further inflammation inflicting damage on the liver leads to steatohepatitis. A fatty liver is primarily caused by factors such as the consumption of alcohol beyond permissible limits, obesity or diabetes. In the case of steatosis the liver may swell, expand due to the stretching of its membrane and therefore become bulky giving rise to pain in the abdomen which may be serious.
Liver Pain Causes
Besides steatosis (fatty liver), alcoholism, diabetes mellitus, metabolic syndrome and hypertension as mentioned above, there are certain other factors that contribute to liver pains and can be enlisted as the causes of liver pain.
- Liver cancer coupled with weariness, lethargy and weight loss
- Enlargement of the spleen
- Accumulation of toxins in the body
- Biliary obstruction
- Hodgkin’s disease
- Tender liver caused by schistosomiasis, liver abscess, pylephlebitis, leukaemia, etc.
- Liver tendemess caused by Dubin -Johnson syndrome, mononucleosis, schistomiasis, Weil syndrome
- Hepatic vein thrombosis
- Hydatid cyst
- VLCAD deficiency
- Beam-Kunkel syndrome
- Hepatocellular and metastatic carcinoma
- Fitz-Hugh-Curtis syndrome
- Congestive cardiac failure
- Hepatic abscess
Besides these, the swelling of the liver induced by hepatitis causes pain in the liver on the right side. Moreover, the over-intake of drugs such as acetaminophen also known as Tylenol also causes liver damage.
Liver Pain Symptoms
Pain is the primary symptom of liver malfunction, enlargement, inflammation, or other disorders. The pain being sharp and dull in nature accompanied by skin rashes is felt at the upper right abdomen. Other symptoms of liver pain are difficulty in respiration and coughing, nausea and vomiting, dark circles, yellowing of the eyes as in the case of jaundice, brownish blemishes and dark spots over the skin, weight loss, swollen testes, etc. Liver pain may also lead to abdominal pain.
Liver Pain after Drinking
Many cases of pain in liver are traced to prolonged alcohol abuse. When alcohol is consumed in amounts excess to what the liver can process, the organ has to work harder to metabolize the substance. It eventually ends up being damaged. Over a long period, excess alcohol intake can cause the following problems:
- Alcoholic hepatitis, marked by mild to acute swelling of liver
- Alcoholic cirrhosis, characterized by gradual replacement of normal liver tissues with scarred tissues (Fibrosis)
- Fatty Liver
Pain may ensue as a result of such conditions. The aches may range from moderate to severe in intensity. In some cases, liver pain is mistaken for stomach ache and the underlying condition is often misdiagnosed which delays recovery.
Liver Biopsy and Pain
Pain in the liver may also originate as a common complication of liver biopsy. Pain after this procedure is generally restricted only to a mild discomfort. It often arises as a risk of Percutaneous needle liver biopsy, which occurs in approximately 20% patients.
If pain is too uncomfortable to bear, narcotic pain relievers like acetaminophen with codeine may need to be taken.
Liver Pain after Eating
Some people experience pain in the upper right area of the abdomen after having meals. This may occur due to underlying conditions like Gallbladder disease or Fatty Liver disease. As the liver aids in breaking down fat, problems in the organ may result in liver pain. Imaging techniques like MRI or CT scan or ultrasound can help in diagnosing the actual underlying disorder and help in devising an appropriate treatment plan.
Liver Cancer and Pain
Pain may also arise in the later stages of cancerous conditions of the liver. Patients may also suffer from additional signs and symptoms like yellowish skin, swollen tummy and weight loss. The painful symptoms related with cancer are mainly restricted to the upper abdomen and the back.
Radiotherapy may be useful in providing relief from aches and discomfort associated with secondary liver cancer. Medications may also be used to cure painful sensations.
Liver Pain Treatment
The treatment of liver pain rests on the ability of individuals to refrain from certain habits such as drug addiction and alcoholism which is the root cause of most health problems. Treatments available medically are antiviral agents, 3TC, Adefovir, Flagyl, Interferon alpha II b. Along with these, sufficient electrolyte repletion and hydration is necessary for facilitating the treatment of liver pain. Moreover maintaining ones personal hygiene along with good sanitary measures are common follow up measures for the treatment of any disease. Patients are referred to the hospital only if they are unable to eat food and there is a need to compensate the loss by resting on saline treatment.
Liver Pain Home Remedies
Doctors have suggested a number of natural or alternative remedial measures to cure liver pain:-
- The consumption of water is vital for our survival and as such should be drunk in a large volume so as to help the liver to detoxify the body as well as facilitate the excretion of waste products. Doctors recommend the intake of at least eight glasses of water every day.
- The consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables helps in the facilitation of the removal of toxins from the body. Whole-food and cereals like brown rice are effective in this matter.
- The deficiency of Vitamin A, B1 and K in the body is also cited as a strong scientific reason for the occurrence of liver pain. Vitamin A facilitates antioxidant activities in the body, Vitamin B1 helps in the production of energy as well as maintains the the level of glucose in the blood and Vitamin K synthesises the proteins.
- There are ways to detoxify the body herbally by the help of the array of herbal or ayurvedic products that may be effective in healing the pain.
- Linseed oil contains fatty acids essential for the proper functioning and maintenance of the liver system.
Prevention of Liver Pain
Some of the preventive measures of liver pain are:
- Instead of suggesting teetotalism, doctors advice not to indulge in the over consumption of alcohol which often leads to alcoholic abuse and causes great damage not only to the liver but also to all other organs of the body.
- Drugs should be taken only after consultation with a physician as any drug containing acetaminophen may be hazardous to the liver and the health at large.
- Similarly the consumption of junk food or those extremely rich in spices may harm the liver to a great extent.
However some conditions such as cirhosis causes acute and permanent damge to the liver, the loss of which finally causes death as it has no substitute to act in its favour.
Therefore one should avoid any act which may cause the malfunctioning or the disfunctioning of the liver as our survival is not possible without such a significant organ. So we need to take care of it so as to live a healthy life.
Written by anirudh
on September 30th, 2010. The article was last updated on July 2nd, 2013