What Are Symptoms of Liver Damage in Women?

Madeleine A.
Madeleine A.
Several types of liver disease: hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
Several types of liver disease: hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.

The symptoms of liver damage in women are similar to those in men. These symptoms may include yellowing of the skin and eyes, a condition called jaundice, tea-colored urine, and generalized itching. In addition, the liver may look and feel enlarged, and the patient may have little or no appetite. In addition, a person may experience include weight loss, nausea and vomiting, and clay-colored stools. Sometimes a blocked bile duct can contribute to clay- or light-colored stools as well.

Primary liver damage can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
Primary liver damage can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

Typically, early symptoms of liver damage in women are vague. They may include bloating, excessive gas, and pain in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen. Although these symptoms can be mild and due to other, less serious conditions, they must be evaluated by the physician. As symptoms of liver damage in women become worse, the patient may even display confusion and lethargy. This happens because liver damage can produce high amounts of ammonia to be released into the blood stream, causing confusion and sleepiness.

A damaged liver in a woman may look and feel enlarged.
A damaged liver in a woman may look and feel enlarged.

Primary liver damage can be caused by excessive intake of alcohol, leading to cirrhosis of the liver, diabetes, and hepatitis. In addition, gallbladder disease can cause liver damage in women. Although the liver can repair itself, extensive liver damage may be permanent. In addition, certain medications and illicit drugs can also contribute to liver damage in both men and women. For example, taking pain relievers while drinking alcohol may result in liver damage, and in many times, the condition is irreversible.

Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.

Treating liver damage depends upon the underlying cause. For example if the liver damage is caused by cirrhosis, refraining from consuming alcoholic beverages may result in an improvement. Similarly, if liver damage is related to medications or drugs, stopping the drugs may result in reversal of the liver damage. Since diabetes can contribute to liver damage in women and men, diabetic patients must comply with the medication regimen and follow their physician's recommendations for a healthy diet and exercise program.

Diabetes can cause liver damage in women.
Diabetes can cause liver damage in women.

Sometimes, temporary liver damage can occur as a result of a viral infection. These infections include mononucleosis and hepatitis. Typically, however, after the infection has been resolved, the liver damage will heal. Frequently, when liver damage is present, certain liver enzymes become elevated, and these enzymes can be evaluated through a simple blood test. As the infection resolves, liver enzymes in the blood generally revert back to normal, easing symptoms of liver damage in women and men alike.

What Is Liver Damage?

Liver damage may be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.
Liver damage may be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.

The liver is a major player in your health: As the body's second-largest organ, it is responsible for filtering out waste from the digestive system, producing bile that removes toxins from your body, and helping the body digest food. When the liver is not working properly, several areas of your body begin to malfunction. Ultimately, severe liver damage can be fatal if not treated in time. There are many forms of liver disease, including liver cancer and various types of hepatitis, that can cause liver damage. Liver damage also refers to the destruction caused by drug or alcohol abuse.

An ultrasound can be used to detect liver damage.
An ultrasound can be used to detect liver damage.

Though liver damage has a reputation for being associated with alcoholics and drug abusers, this stigmatizing scenario is far from the case for everyone who has liver damage. Women who have liver damage, for example, may be more susceptible to liver damage caused by toxic agents because overall, their bodies are smaller and less able to tolerate large doses. Women are also more prone to autoimmune diseases than men are.

Liver damage may be caused by a disease such as hemochromatosis, which is an overload of iron in the blood that's usually caused by a genetic abnormality — or it may be caused when your immune system attacks your own liver. This is referred to as autoimmune hepatitis. Viral infections also may lead to liver diseases referred to as hepatitis A, B, or C. Liver cancer is also a relatively common cause of liver damage.

Signs of Liver Damage

Signs of liver damage in women are similar to those in men. Whether you have liver damage from alcohol abuse, prescription medication overdose, or a condition like hepatitis that causes liver problems, the signs and symptoms of liver problems may look similar. In its early stages, liver damage may cause no outward signs that you or your doctor can observe, but you may feel "off" when your liver is malfunctioning. Signs and symptoms of a failing liver can include one or many of the following:

  • Abdominal pain similar to a stomachache 
  • Fluid retention and swelling around the stomach, legs, or ankles
  • Changes in your urine include tea-colored or dark urine
  • Nausea and appetite changes
  • Itchy skin and easy bruising that is not normal for you
  • Yellow eyes and skin (jaundice)

These symptoms can be troubling if they are severe, but if they are mild, you may overlook them or explain away why they are happening to you. For example, itchy skin may resemble allergies, or abdominal pain may seem like stress. If you notice any abnormalities in your health, especially if they connect to a vital organ such as the liver, it is crucial to schedule a checkup with a medical professional to assess whether you need to begin a treatment protocol.

Can Liver Damage Be Reversed?

Liver disease treatment is often successful if the damage is caught early and the reason for the damage is identified — but it often isn't curable. This is why it's important to go to your doctor for regular physical examinations and be honest with your doctor about how much alcohol you drink (if this is a concern).

Dietary Restrictions

If your doctor has found that your liver damage is the result of too much alcohol, a prescription medication that your liver can't filter adequately (such as large doses of acetaminophen), or a genetic abnormality that allows iron to build up in your blood to a damaging level, your doctor may ask you to avoid the offending substances. Dietary changes may include eating foods with less iron or avoiding iron supplements for hemochromatosis, maintaining sobriety if you have the tendency to abuse alcohol, or avoiding certain medications that affect your liver.

Medical Treatments

There are some medications you may need to avoid, as discussed above, that can cause liver damage if taken in large doses. Your medical team may recommend that you take medications for liver damage or cirrhosis of the liver including antiviral treatments, Interferon, or Ursodiol. Without knowing what's causing your liver problems, it's impossible to treat the disease. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms above, schedule an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible for a thorough examination.

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Discussion Comments

burcidi

The first symptom of liver damage I developed was Terry's nails. This is when the nails become white all of the sudden. There are many potential causes of this. But after my blood work and CT scan confirmed liver damage, I'm sure that cirrhosis was the cause in my case.

fify

@ZipLine-- You've made a great point. Early stages of liver damage may not have any physical signs. But even in the early stages, liver function test results will be abnormal. So this is the best and most reliable sign.

ZipLine

As far as I understand, it takes a lot to damage the liver. I read somewhere that our liver renews itself more quickly than any other organ in our body.

I also think that mild damage is not really noticeable. For example, my mom has been diagnosed with fatty liver. She also had high liver enzymes, but thankfully, those are back to normal. The doctor said that the fatty liver is probably a few years old. But all this while, she has not had any symptoms.

I think symptoms show up when the damage is very serious and close to being irreversible. So it's probably a good idea for people who use medications and alcohol frequently to get regular checkups and make sure that their liver is doing well.

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    • Several types of liver disease: hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
      By: peterjunaidy
      Several types of liver disease: hepatic steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
    • Primary liver damage can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
      By: Sergey Nivens
      Primary liver damage can be caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.
    • A damaged liver in a woman may look and feel enlarged.
      By: CLIPAREA.com
      A damaged liver in a woman may look and feel enlarged.
    • Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
      By: pixdesign123
      Because the liver filters toxins and waste from the blood, if the organ fails to work properly a person can become seriously ill.
    • Diabetes can cause liver damage in women.
      By: Dmitry Lobanov
      Diabetes can cause liver damage in women.
    • Liver damage may be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.
      By: aaabbc
      Liver damage may be caused by long-term use of illicit drugs.
    • An ultrasound can be used to detect liver damage.
      By: acherst
      An ultrasound can be used to detect liver damage.