What causes liver pain?

Abdominal pain, even if you feel it in the liver area of the upper right quadrant, can be caused by disorders other than liver problems. Other sources of pain in this region include gallstones and intestinal disorders and obstructions. However, if your pain is related to the liver, it may be caused by an inflammation of the liver, either a sudden inflammation or a flare-up of a longstanding condition. It can also be due to a liver abscess or a growth, swelling, scarring (cirrhosis), liver fibrosis, or distention of the abdomen. Ascites, which is the buildup of fluid in the abdomen, can also cause abdominal pain. You may find that your liver pain gets worse after you drink alcohol.

Common causes of liver pain

Liver pain may be caused by various disorders related to the liver including:

  • Ascites (buildup of fluid in the abdomen, which is a frequent complication of cirrhosis)
  • Autoimmune disease (disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue)
  • Cirrhosis (scarring of the liver that causes severe dysfunction)
  • Hepatitis (liver inflammation)
  • Hepatomegaly (enlarged liver)
  • Liver abscess
  • Liver failure
  • Liver tumor (either primary or metastatic from another site in the body)

Serious or life-threatening causes of liver pain

In some cases, liver pain may be a symptom of a serious or life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. These include:

  • Blood infections
  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (liver cancer)
  • Injury to the liver or bile-draining tubes
  • Liver metastases (spread of cancer from other parts of the body)

Questions for diagnosing the cause of liver pain

To diagnose your condition, your doctor or licensed health care practitioner will ask you several questions related to your liver pain including:

  • How long have you had this pain?
  • Is the pain always in your right upper abdomen? Does it ever travel?
  • Have you had any abdominal swelling, distention or bloating?
  • Have you had a fever or chills?
  • Have you seen changes in your skin? A change in color? New blood vessels? Any itching?
  • Have you noticed any increase in your sweating?
  • What medications are you taking?
  • How much alcohol would you say you consume over a given period of time? If you drink, does drinking have any effect on your pain?

What are the potential complications of liver pain?

Because liver pain 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)
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure
  • Portal hypertension (increased blood pressure in the veins around the liver, stomach and esophagus)
  • Spread of cancer
  • Spread of infection


  1. Liver metastases. Medline Plus, a service of the National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000277.htm.
  2. Viral hepatitis. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. http://www.niaid.nih.gov/topics/hepatitis/Pages/default.aspx.

What is liver pain?

Liver pain can be hard to identify and localize because pain from abdominal organs, such as the liver, is often perceived in a vague, ill-defined manner by the brain. The liver’s pain receptors lie primarily on its surface, especially in the capsule covering a portion of the liver, meaning that pressure on the capsule is most often the source of pain. This pain is usually felt in the upper righ... Read more about liver painintroduction


What other symptoms might occur with liver pain?

Liver pain 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.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with liver pain

Liver pain may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:

Medical Reviewer: Cynthia Haines, MD Last Annual Review Date: Aug 5, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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