Enlarged liver can be caused by a variety of disorders or illnesses. Depending on the severity of the abnormal growth, there can be serious medical consequences. The size of the growth ranges all the way from slightly enlarged to grossly enlarged. A normal adult liver is usually about the size of a small American football, weighing 3-4 pounds or 1.5 kilograms.
“Hepatomegaly” is the medical term for an enlarged liver.
An enlarged liver isn’t actually a form of liver disease. It’s a symptom that something else is wrong with the liver.
There are many types of liver disorders that can cause the liver to swell. The most common include these.
* One of a number of different strains of hepatitis.
* Polycystic liver disease, which results when numerous cysts appear on the liver.
* Infections that can cause problems for the liver, like malaria and mononucleosis.
* Liver cysts, or small sacs that grow on the liver. They may be empty or may contain watery or mucous-like fluids.
* Cirrhosis, which is a scarring of the liver, typically caused by a disease like hepatitis or a chemical addiction (most often alcohol).
* Fatty liver syndrome (also known as fatty liver disease), which is characterized by a growing accumulation of fat in the liver. Poor diet is the most common cause. The build up of fat interferes with liver function.
* Certain types of cancer may contribute to enlarging the liver. This is particularly true in the case of leukemia.
Symptoms of an enlarged liver vary depending on the size. If it’s only a slightly enlarged liver, there may be no symptoms at all. But a grossly enlarged liver causes a feeling of fullness and possibly some discomfort in the abdomen.
Symptoms of liver enlargement, when they do appear, could include any combination of the following.
* A condition known as ascites. This disorder is characterized by an accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity, which separates abdominal organs from the abdominal lining.
* Cholestasis, a problem which occurs when the flow of bile from the liver through the bile ducts is blocked.
* Jaundice, in which the skin and eyes begin to look yellow. This is caused by too much pigment in the bloodstream.
Diagnosis of the cause of an enlarged liver is the key to choosing a proper course of treatment. In many instances, the cause is alcohol abuse. If this is the case, it’s important to stop drinking. If excessive alcohol use is not the problem, then poor diet and lack of exercise could be the reasons. Your health care provider will offer some suggestions about changing your lifestyle.
Here are some common sense ways to avoid problems from an enlarged liver.
Avoid alcohol completely, or keep drinking to a minimum. Never drink while taking medications.
Similarly, take care to avoid consuming multiple medications. Be sure to observe dosage recommendations.
Talk to your physician before taking herbal supplements. Sometimes these can have an effect on the liver.
Be aware that certain vitamin combinations – notably A, D, E and K – have the potential to cause liver trouble.
When using certain common household products, be sure the area is well-ventilated. Some insecticides, cleaners and aerosols can cause liver damage.
Finally – and perhaps most important of all – eat a sensible diet and exercise regularly. Diet and exercise are the best ways to avoid an enlarged liver.