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What Causes an Enlarged Liver?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a The Health Board researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon335371 — On May 20, 2013

I have not traveled to any countries that have parasites, yet I have them in my liver. They are creating holes in the liver and can cause non-alcohol-related cirrhosis. Most doctors are not aware of these parasites because they are difficult to diagnose in the O&P stage. So therefore, if they can't scientifically identify them, they don't exist.

I have been doing natural programs of herbs to expel the liver flukes. I have taken pictures to help with the identification. It is working, but I have no idea how extensive the damage is. (My bilirubin is elevated, which happens when you have a lot of worms.) This could be a result of eating sushi.

By suntan12 — On Oct 15, 2011

@Icecream17 - I also heard that symptoms of liver problems involve yellowing of the eyes and sharp pain in the upper ribs. Sometimes liver disease is caused by excessive alcohol abuse which many times can lead to liver cancer.

I had an uncle that died of liver cancer, but it was due to an excessive fatty liver based on a diet that was high in fat. He was also diabetic which caused more strain on his liver.

He was not a drinker, but he did experience pain in his upper ribs but chose to ignore it. Unfortunately in his case he ignored it so long that he eventually succumbed to the disease.

By icecream17 — On Oct 15, 2011

I was watching a television program the other that was talking about the liver. They had an enlarged liver as well as a normal liver on the program in order to show the audience the difference.

The doctor on the show explained that enlarged liver causes involve fatty liver symptoms which are a result of eating foods that are high in fat and sugar. The doctor explained that the liver was the body’s natural filter that would filter out all of the toxins that we ingest, but if the liver is overwhelmed by the amount of work that it has to do because of the high amounts of fat and sugar that are involved it starts to grow and become enlarged.

The doctor said that a blood test can measure the levels of liver enzymes which can tell the doctor if a person has a fatty liver. The doctor on the show said that even if someone has some level of liver damage because of a fatty liver, the damage is reversible because the liver has regenerative properties.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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