Enlarged Liver: Silent Danger to Your Health

Published: 08th February 2007
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The liver is one of the largest organs in the human body, second only to the skin. The liver is also one of the most multi-functional organs, performing dozens of tasks that are necessary to human health. The liver aids in the absorption of food. The liver also removes a number of toxic substances from the body.

Usually, an adult liver is approximately the size of a small football. Sometimes, however, the liver becomes enlarged. This is known as hepatomegaly.

An enlarged liver is not a disease. It's a sign of an underlying problem. When an enlarged liver is present, prompt medical attention is needed.

Treatment of an enlarged liver depends on the cause--and the causes can be many. In fact, there are more than 90 known causes of an enlarged liver. The most common include:

Alcoholic liver cirrhosis

Chronic hepatitis B
Fatty liver (see Liver symptoms) 

Hepatitis

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis C

Liver cirrhosis

Liver cysts

Liver infection

Polycystic liver disease

Viral hepatitis

Certain forms of cancer, notably leukemia, and some common infections such as malaria and mononucleosis can also cause an enlarged liver.

There are usually no symptoms associated with a slightly enlarged liver, but a grossly enlarged liver causes a feeling of discomfort that some people describe as "feeling too full." Someone with an enlarged liver may also suffer jaundice, ascites (fluid in the abdomen), cholestasis (failure of bile to flow from the liver through the bile ducts), and portal hypertension (High blood pressure in the portal venous system that carries blood from the intestine, spleen and pancreas to the liver).

Various diagnostic tests can help determine the cause of enlarged liver:

Blood tests of liver function

Computed tomography (CT) scan of the abdomen

Liver biopsy

Ultrasound of the liver

X-ray of the abdomen

Treatment of an enlarged liver depends on the cause. If the enlarged liver is alcohol-related, it's essential to stop drinking. If alcohol is not a factor, then exercise and weight control are critical. It's also important to keep a close watch on cholesterol levels.

As with most health problems, prevention is easier than treatment. To avoid getting an enlarged liver:

Drink alcohol in moderation, or not at all. alcohol can lead to fat accumulation, inflammation and scarring in the liver. If drinking continues, liver damage may be fatal.

Don't mix alcohol with other drugs.
Be careful when taking multiple medications, and be especially careful to take only the recommended doses. Talk to your doctor before mixing herbal supplements with prescription or nonprescription medications. Be cautious with supplements. Some supplements can damage the liver, including kava, comfrey, chaparral and pennyroyal. Avoid high doses of vitamins A, D, E and K.

Limit contact with toxins. Use aerosol cleaners, insecticides and other toxic chemicals only in places that are well ventilated. When using chemicals of any sort, wear appropriate protective clothing, including a mask if needed.

Finally, be smart about your diet and exercise regularly. Eating healthy foods and getting some exercise can help you control your weight, which helps your liver function at it's maximum efficiency.

For more information, click on Liver Health and Wellness.

George McKenzie is a retired TV anchor, medical reporter and radio talk show host. He often contributes articles to

Health Information Articles, a resource site about health and wellness.



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