Enlarged Liver

What is an Enlarged Liver?

A disease of the liver can be a direct cause of liver enlargement, but it is usually caused by an underlying condition. Swelling can indicate an infection, damage or disease. It may be genetic, parasitic, viral, or bacterial, or it could be a symptom of lymphoma, leukemia or a heart condition.

Cirrhosis, hepatitis and fatty liver are alcohol-related causes. Other causes of an enlarged liver are non-alcohol related fatty liver disease, bile duct blockage, veno-occlusive disease, metabolic disease, viral forms of hepatitis and liver cancer. Tests must be performed to diagnose the cause and determine a treatment plan.

What are the Symptoms of an Enlarged Liver?

Liver enlargement in itself is asymptomatic, especially when mild.

Symptoms include

  • Pain or discomfort in the area of the liver (upper right abdominal region)
  • Aching muscles
  • Full feeling
  • Jaundice (yellow whites of the eyes and skin)
  • Lethargy
  • Queasiness
  • Unintentional weight loss

Enlarged Liver Causes

There are many different conditions that can lead to an enlarged liver. The most common causes are alcoholic liver diseases, nonalcoholic fatty liver diseases, viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, or E, and liver cancer.

There are also some less common conditions that can cause an enlarged liver. These include cancers, including certain types of leukemia and lymphoma. Genetic diseases such as hemochomatosis, Wilson’s diseases, glycogen storage diseases, and Gaucher’s disease.

Problems with the heart and blood vessels can also lead to an enlarged liver. Blockages of the veins that drain the liver can lead to it becoming enlarged. Infections, damage from toxins (including those found in medication), and liver or systemic diseases are also known causes.

How is an Enlarged Liver Treated?

The treatment of an enlarged liver depends on the cause.

Treatment includes

A physical exam, blood tests, imaging and/or a liver biopsy can help to determine the reason for the swelling. When diagnosed as alcohol-related, abstaining from alcoholic beverages can make a tremendous difference.

Other doctor-approved treatments include

  • Improved diet
  • Weight loss
  • Increased physical activity
  • Treatment of blood flow disorders
  • Removal or shrinkage of cysts or tumors
  • Discontinuing certain medications
  • Taking only recommended doses of vitamins and prescription and non-prescription meds
  • Avoidance of toxins (certain herbal remedies and chemical products)
  • Antibiotics to treat infection

The liver is an amazing organ that has the ability to regenerate itself and heal. Making healthy changes and choices can help to maintain and preserve portions that are still functioning. However, when an underlying condition, cause or liver disease is left untreated, it can result in irreversible scarring, liver failure, coma and death.

Enlarged Liver Prevention

There are many ways to prevent an enlarged liver. Eating healthily, as with many diseases, will help prevent an enlarged liver. Increase the amount of fruits, vegetables and whole grains you eat. Also, reduce the amount of processed foods and refined sugar you eat. Probiotic rich foods, such as sauerkraut and yogurt, have also been shown to be good for general health.

Maintaining a healthy weight is also great for your liver. To lose weight, start doing some moderate exercise and cut back calorie intake. It’s generally easiest to cut out the foods that are highest in calories first, such as soft drinks, fast food, and sugary snacks.

Avoiding drinking alcohol in excess is also very good for the liver. Consult with a doctor to find out what’s a healthy amount of alcohol for you.

Also be sure to always follow directions when taking medications, vitamins, or supplements. While these things are healthy and beneficial when taken in the correct amount, they can often become toxic when taken in excess.

Limiting contact with chemicals can also keep your liver healthy. Be sure to use the recommended safety equipment when handling chemicals. Even when using aerosol cleaners and other household products be sure to wear gloves and insure that the area is as well ventilated as possible. A mask can also be worn.

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Last Reviewed:
September 20, 2016
Last Updated:
December 19, 2017