What causes enlarged liver?
Enlarged liver is usually caused by liver disorders related to excessive alcohol use, congestive heart failure, glycogen storage disease, viral hepatitis, liver cancer, cirrhosis, and steatosis (fat in the liver). It can also be caused by a large variety of disorders affecting other body systems, such as infectious mononucleosis or tumor metastases from other primary cancers in the body.
Gastrointestinal causes of enlarged liver
Enlarged liver may be caused by liver disorders and other gastrointestinal (or related) disorders including:
- Alcohol abuse
- Glycogen storage disease (inherited disorder that causes liver enlargement)
- Hemochromatosis (buildup of excess iron in body tissues, particularly the liver)
- Sclerosing cholangitis (inflammation and destruction of the bile ducts)
- Steatosis (fatty liver)
- Viral hepatitis
Other causes of enlarged liver
Enlarged liver can also be caused by disorders affecting a variety of other body systems including:
- Amyloidosis (rare immune-related disorder characterized by protein buildup in organs and tissues that can cause serious complications)
- Autoimmune disease (disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue)
- Congestive heart failure (deterioration of the heart’s ability to pump blood)
- Mononucleosis (viral infection)
Serious or life-threatening causes of enlarged liver
In some cases, enlarged liver may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be immediately evaluated in an emergency setting. These include:
- Adverse drug reactions such as acetaminophen toxicity
- Blood infections
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer)
- Injury to the liver or bile-draining tubes
- Leukemia (cancer of the blood or bone marrow)
- Liver metastases (spread of cancer to the liver from other parts of the body)
- Lymphomas (cancers of the lymph system)
- Reye’s syndrome (rare, serious illness that occurs following a viral infection)
Questions for diagnosing the cause of enlarged liver
To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your enlarged liver including:
- Have you noticed a feeling of fullness or lump in your abdomen?
- Have you experienced any abdominal pain?
- Have you had any vomiting or vomiting of blood?
- Have you had any unusually colored stools?
- Have you had a fever or chills?
- How much alcohol do you drink? Have you noticed any increased pain after drinking alcohol?
- Have you seen changes in your skin? A change in color? New blood vessels? Any itching?
- What medications do you take?
- Have you had any other symptoms?
What are the potential complications of enlarged liver?
Because enlarged liver can be due to serious diseases, failure to seek treatment can result in serious complications and permanent damage. Once the underlying cause is diagnosed, it is important for you to follow the treatment plan that you and your health care professional design specifically for you to reduce the risk of potential complications including:
- Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver that causes severe dysfunction)
- Hepatic encephalopathy (brain disorder caused by liver disease)
- Hepatocellular carcinoma (Liver cancer)
- Liver failure
- Portal hypertension (increased blood pressure in the veins around the liver, stomach and esophagus)
- Spread of cancer
- Spread of infection
Hepatomegaly. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003275.htm. Accessed May 9, 2011.
Hepatitis. American Gastroenterological Association. http://www.gastro.org/patient-center/digestive-conditions/hepatitis. Accessed May 9, 2011.
What is enlarged liver?
Enlarged liver, called hepatomegaly, is an increase in size of the liver, whatever the cause. In some cases, both the liver and spleen become enlarged together, and the resulting condition is called hepatosplenomegaly. The liver is an organ in the digestive system that assists the digestive process and carries out many other essential functions. These functions include producing bile to he... Read more about enlarged liver introduction
What other symptoms might occur with enlarged liver?
Enlarged liver may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.... Read more about enlarged liver symptoms