There are a number of potential causes for an enlarged liver, including infections, liver disease, and heart failure. The liver is a key organ in the body, involved in a number of metabolic processes, and a wide range of disorders can cause liver problems like enlargement. In some cases, patients with an enlarged liver may not experience any symptoms and can be unaware of the hepatomegaly, as the medical community refers to swelling of the liver. Other patients may feel tenderness in the abdomen, note a palpable swelling, or experience fatigue in association with an enlarged liver.
Liver disease is one of the most common causes of an enlarged liver. A number of metabolic storage disorders involving the liver can cause enlargement, as can cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, and liver tumors. These conditions can onset gradually and the symptoms may develop so slowly that the patient adapts to them over time, not recognizing the distinctive changes associated with liver disease until it has progressed quite far.
Obstruction of the bile ducts and blood vessels connected to the liver can be another cause of an enlarged liver. Obstructions can be caused by a number of medical issues. Patients with congestive heart failure and blood pressure disorders may also experience hepatomegaly, as their livers will respond over time to the systemic physical problems associated with the underlying disease. Other organs in the body can also develop signs of dysfunction as the disease progresses.
Infections elsewhere in the body, especially when parasites are involved, have also been linked with enlarged liver in some patients. Another potential cause of enlargement is a cancer in the blood, like leukemia. The liver is the body's filter and when people are sick, it may enlarge as it struggles to work as effectively as possible. The liver can also enlarge in response to the formation of cysts in conditions like polycystic liver disease.
Medical imaging studies can reveal enlargement of the liver, and may be used to determine how much the liver has swelled and to look for other signs of health issues in the patient, such as obstructions in the blood vessels that supply the liver. Tests like medical scans with contrast, where dyes are used to highlight internal structures, and angiograms, where the network of blood vessels is traced with the assistance of a dye, can both be used to collect more information about why a patient's liver is enlarged.