20 Warning Signs Your Liver Sends You

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IT’S ONE OF YOUR MOST IMPORTANT ORGANS—SO YOU MAY WANT TO LISTEN TO WHAT IT HAS TO SAY.

Your liver does a lot for your health. As one of the body’s largest organs, it’s responsible for metabolic functions like converting nutrients from your diet so your body can use them and making sure toxic substances are flushed out before they cause any harm, according to the Institute for Quality and Efficiency in Health Care. But when your liver is in trouble and not functioning properly, there are a handful of ways it tries to tell you that something is wrong. Because it is so crucial that you don’t ignore these hints, however subtle they may be, and maintain your health during these unprecedented times, here are 20 liver warning signs you should be on the lookout for.

1. You have little to no appetite.

You used to chow down like you were in a food competition, and now you’re never hungry. So what gives? According to the Mayo Clinic, one of the most common signs of liver damage is a loss of appetite, making your non-existent hunger pangs something to be weary of.

2. Your sleep patterns are inconsistent.

There are many things that can disturb your sleep pattern, but a 2012 study published in the Egyptian Journal of Chest Diseases and Tuberculosis found one possible culprit is liver cirrhosis, which can make it especially hard to get a good night’s rest—even if you’re counting sleep like it’s your job. If it turns out your liver’s fine and you’re still having trouble nodding off.

3. Your memory isn’t at its sharpest.

Forgetting where you left your car keys is one thing, but if your memory has gotten much worse lately, there might be a reason for that. When you’re experiencing liver failure, your organ can’t properly remove toxins from the blood, and that can result in them building up in the brain—aka hepatic encephalopathy. Unfortunately, one of the results of that is memory loss.

4. You’re tired all the time.

Feeling really tired lately, no matter what you do? Liver disease might be to blame. One of the most incredibly common signs of liver damage is chronic fatigue, which according to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, could occur due to changes in neurotransmission within the brain.

5. Your skin itches.

Primary biliary cholangitis—which the Mayo Clinic says is a chronic disease that destroys the bile ducts in your liver—doesn’t typically have super-noticeable symptoms, but one early sign is experiencing itchy skin. Sure, your skin might just be dry, but if it’s becoming a regular thing, it might be worth getting checked out—especially because itchy skin is also an indicator of cirrhosis of the liver, the Cleveland Clinic says.

6. You notice yellowing of your eyes or skin.

Seeing the whites of your eyes start to turn yellow—or experiencing yellowing of your skin—can be incredibly scary, but it has a solid explanation: it’s called jaundice and it’s due to a high level of bilirubin in the body, which is a yellowish pigment that’s secreted by the liver, according to the Cleveland Clinic. If you do notice the discoloration, it could be from many different signs of liver damage, from cirrhosis to hepatitis B.

7. You experience sudden weight gain.

If you’re suddenly gaining weight out of nowhere, your liver might be to blame. It could be a sign you have liver cirrhosis, a disease that develops slowly and replaces healthy liver tissue with scar tissue, blocking blood flow through the liver and inhibiting the organ from working properly.

8. Or you unexpectedly lose weight.

While suddenly gaining weight can be one of the signs of liver damage, losing weight can be a symptom, too. Seeing the number drop on the scale isn’t just a sign of liver cirrhosis—according to the Mayo Clinic, it’s also a red flag for hepatitis C, a viral infection that leads to the inflammation of the liver.

9. Your palms turn red.

Speaking of red flags, do you suddenly have red palms for no reason? It could be due to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that, according to the Mayo Clinic, involves too much fat being stored in liver cells that affects people who barely drink—or totally avoid!—alcohol.

10. Your breasts become enlarged.

One of the most shocking warning signs of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is experiencing enlarged breasts if you’re a man. It’s a very mind-boggling occurrence, but there’s an explanation. It’s thought that the growth of excess breast tissue—aka gynecomastia—occurs due to an imbalance of the hormones estrogen and testosterone.

11. Your notice changes in your personality.

Experiencing changes to your personality can be scary and sometimes it might be others that notice before you do. Just like how hepatic encephalopathy can cause memory loss, all those toxins building up in your brain can also decrease mental function, causing you to not act like yourself.

12. You bruise easily.

As you get older, your body can start to bruise more easily due to your skin getting thinner. If there’s really no explanation for why more marks are showing up on your body, though (meaning you’re relatively young), it might be one of the signs of liver damage. Live disease can also make it a more frequent occurrence, the Mayo Clinic says.

13. You experience swelling of your legs or ankles.

According to the Mayo Clinic, liver disease can be caused by everything from alcohol use to obesity, and one common warning sign is something you probably wouldn’t expect: swelling in your legs and ankles. If you’re experiencing the puffiness and aren’t sure why, a visit to your doc might be in order to make sure it’s not something serious.

14. You are easily confused.

Unfortunately, the hepatic encephalopathy caused by liver failure can also mess with your ability to understand things. This can result in you feeling confused about things that wouldn’t normally confuse you.

15. Or have trouble focusing.

Let’s be real—everyone has dealt with concentration issues. Sometimes your brain just doesn’t want to work. If you feel like you’re having trouble concentrating regularly, though, that could also be your liver giving you a warning sign that it’s failing, the American Liver Foundation says.

16. You have more aches and pains than usual.

You haven’t been working out more than usual, so what gives with all your body pain? One possible reason is primary biliary cholangitis, which aside from causing itchy skin can also lead to bone, muscle, or joint pain.

17. You feel bloated.

If your bloating can’t be blamed on a big meal, it might be due to the buildup of fluid in the abdomen, which is known as ascites. Since abdominal swelling is one of the warning signs of liver damage, it’s a good idea to make a doctor’s appointment, just in case.

18. Your urine is a darker color than usual.

Seeing dark urine in the toilet after going to the bathroom can be a total shocker—and it’s also one of the tell-tail signs of liver damage. the Mayo Clinic says. While bilirubin is responsible for the yellowing of the eyes or skin, it can also change the color of your urine, says Johns Hopkins Medicine.

19. You regularly get the chills.

Have a chronic case of the chills that no amount of cozy blankets can fix? It could be a sign of cholestasis during liver disease, which the experts at Johns Hopkins Medicine say occurs when the organ’s flow of bile is reduced or has stopped completely.

20. Your eyes or mouth are dry.

There are plenty of different reasons behind experiencing dry eyes or a dry mouth—from your age to the medications you’re taking—but one possible culprit is a lot more serious. Primary biliary cholangitis is known to cause the problem, the Mayo Clinic says, but luckily it’s an early symptom of the chronic disease.

Liver TLC

Dr. Romero-Marrero offers four tips for keeping your liver healthy:

  1. Exercise at least fives times a week for at least 30 minutes each time.
  2. Eat a healthy diet that is low in refined sugars, processed foods, sweets, sodas, and refined carbohydrates. Choose fruits, vegetables and high-fiber foods instead.
  3. Drink moderately — no more than two daily drinks for men and one for women.
  4. Maintain a healthy weight.

Ultimately, remember that alcohol abuse isn’t the only cause of liver failure. Take care of your body and control chronic conditions to keep your liver healthy, he says.

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