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What Causes Liver Pain?

By Erin J. Hill
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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There are a wide range of things which may cause liver pain, although the most common are gallstones, digestive upset, hepatitis, and fatty liver disease. Occasionally more serious ailments may be to blame, such as liver cancer or extreme cirrhosis of the liver. Toxic overload may also lead to pain, although this is hard to diagnose and may be confused with other conditions. Additionally, there are other medical problems which may lead to pain which do not involve the liver directly.

The most common causes of liver pain are benign and many are fully treatable. Most liver-related pain is located on the right side of the abdomen just below the rib cage. Stabbing, sharp, or acute pains are not normal, although they may sometimes occur. More commonly, liver pain presents itself as a dull ache on the right of the body. Sometimes the back may also be affected.

Liver pain is often caused by gallstones or fatty buildup inside the organ itself. These conditions may be related to eating a diet which is high in fat. Those who lead a sedentary lifestyle are also more susceptible. Digestive conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome may also manifest themselves as liver pain, although the root causes of such ailments often have little to do with the liver itself.

More serious medical conditions may also lead to liver pain. These can include cirrhosis of the liver, various forms of hepatitis, and cancer. Many times these illnesses do not present with pain themselves until the diseases are more progressed. Additional symptoms may also be apparent, such as jaundice and digestive upset.

Treatment for liver pain will depend on the underlying cause. Fatty liver often resolves itself when lifestyle and dietary changes are met. Irritable bowel syndrome can be managed with medication. Gallstones, which are relatively common, can sometimes by managed with dietary restrictions and medication, although sometimes surgery is necessary.

Any severe pain should be investigated by a trained medical professional. Sometimes pain stemming directly from the liver is hard to differentiate from other abdominal pain. Additional symptoms are generally present with severe liver disease, so these are often a clearer indicator of a serious medical condition than pain alone. Jaundice is one of the most common symptoms of liver disease.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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