What are the first signs of a bad liver?

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If you suspect of having a bad liver, these are warning signs to look out for:

  • Irregular and prolonged periods of no or very little urine production
  • Dark brown or black stools
  • Yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes
  • Trouble walking and body coordination
  • Faintness

Symptoms of alcohol-related liver conditions are frequently absent in their early stages.

As a result, you might be unaware that you've had your liver damaged by alcohol.

To spot if your liver has health issues, it is important to first look at some of the body’s physiological effects.

  • To spot if your liver has health issues, it is important to first look at some of the body’s physiological effects.
  • Multiple organ failure
  • Hepatitis, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver cancer
  • Blocked blood vessels
  • Fatty liver disease, which is caused by obesity, diabetes, or infection

Severe symptoms include the following:

  • Loss of appetite, loss of weight, or gain
  • Fatigue or general weakness
  • Vomiting or feeling sick
  • Diarrhoea
  • Swelling in the ankles or feet

Your liver can be affected by several substances - alcohol is one. Though liver tissues and cells can recover, repeated damage can result in scar tissue formation.

Scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue as it forms. This will make it difficult for the liver to perform its essential functions.

There are several signs of a bad liver caused by scarring:

  • Persistent lethargy
  • Pain in the back, sides, thighs, and abdomen
  • High blood pressure
  • Rashes or itchiness in the abdomen
  • Poor or high fluid retention
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Stomach cramps
  • Sores or ulcers
  • Dehydration

The first symptom is inflammation of the liver. One can feel body aches from the lower back, abdomen, and thighs from several hours to a few days.

Another symptom is an unusual drop in the level of bile salts in the blood – and this can make you vomit. This is most commonly seen with hepatitis.

If you are having regular headaches and vomiting, you should see a doctor for alcohol abuse and alcoholism treatment.

Moreover, some of these signs of a bad liver may indicate other alcohol-induced problems, like:

Alcoholic fatty liver disease

Hepatic steatosis is another name for alcoholic fatty liver syndrome. It occurs as the fat starts to accumulate in the liver.

Excess alcohol can prevent fats from being broken down in the liver, resulting in unhealthy fat deposits.

Binge smokers are most likely to develop alcoholic fatty liver disease. About 90 per cent of people who drink heavily suffer from this problem.

First signs of bad alcoholic fatty liver:

  • Numbing pain
  • Discomfort in the abdomen area
  • Feeling bloated or full
  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain
  • Dehydration

Alcoholic hepatitis

Alcohol-induced hepatitis d damages the liver gradually. Severe conditions can strike without warning, like during an excessive drinking session, which can be fatal.

If you have alcoholic hepatitis, you will be able to prevent the effects by abstention. Lifestyle interventions are also part of the treatment.

Symptoms of the disease include:

  • Pain in the abdomen and surrounding muscles
  • Sluggishness
  • Fever
  • Fainting
  • Yellowing of the skin

Alcoholic cirrhosis

Regular alcohol drinking can result in the development of scar tissue. Substances from alcohol like acetaldehyde may damage the liver until it can't heal itself properly.

Signs and symptoms of alcoholic cirrhosis are similar to that of alcohol hepatitis.

This is common in people who are long-term binge drinkers discovered in alcohol rehab centres.

How can I check my liver health at home?

It's hard to check your liver health at home, but you can make intelligent guesses from your lifestyle. You can try asking or doing the following at home:

Check how big your abdomen is

If you’ve been drinking alcohol, you’ll likely develop a “beer belly” due to the accumulation of fats in the bulging area.

However, your bloating abdomen is also a sign of distension or fluid retention.

You’ll know the difference of distension from beer belly by checking if your legs and thighs are swollen too.

Distension is common in people who have alcohol cirrhosis:

  • Is my abdomen getting big in an irregular manner?
  • For men: Have I been developing man boobs?
  • Is my distension causing my legs to swell also?
  • Is there pain in my abdomen and legs?
  • How long and when did this happen?

See if you have jaundice

Jaundice is the condition where the skin tint turned yellowish. It happens when bilirubin, a by-product formed when red blood cells start breaking down, builds up in the bloodstream.

Generally, bilirubin is absorbed and converted into bile by your liver. Your body then excretes it through your waste. 

To know if you have jaundice, ask yourself the following questions.

  1. Is my skin turning yellow?
  2. Is there discolouration in the whites of my eyes?
  3. Am I itching frequently? Does it occur in the yellow-tinged skin?
  4. Is my urine getting darker?
  5. Are my stools getting lighter?

Notice any abnormal bleeding in the body

Alcohol can thin your blood and make blood vessels narrow. About 25 per cent of the blood is cycled in the liver. But, blood and vessel thinning may cause bleeding.

Your liver produces clotting proteins to stop bleeding. 

However, having a bad liver will allow you to bleed easily.

  1. Do you see blood when you vomit?
  2. Did you notice any blood in your stool?
  3. Do your gums bleed more often than they should?
  4. Have you experienced periodic nose bleeding?
  5. Are you also taking any blood thinners when you drink alcohol?

Observe any lifestyle changes

Regular alcohol consumption changes your lifestyle routines. It has physiological and cognitive effects on the body, mental state, emotional, and behavioural found by doctors in an alcohol rehab programme.

  1. Do you feel sluggish lately?
  2. Do you get irritable and anxious most of the time?
  3. How is your sleep at night?
  4. Were you able to eat properly this day? Did you drink enough water?
  5. Have you been forgetful these days?

Even if you're feeling well, getting your liver checked can be beneficial, particularly if you have lifestyle factors such as consuming alcohol or having a family history of liver disease.

Inquire with your family doctor if you need a clinic-based liver examination. This is often done with a blood examination of liver functions and metabolic panels. Early screening for alcohol-induced liver damage is important.

Blood tests can detect liver damage in the early stages, with or without symptoms.

With a simple blood test, you can be assured of knowing what your liver enzymes and blood glucose levels say about your liver health. The test takes between one and two hours to complete.

How do I cleanse my liver?

Previously, we've looked at the early symptoms of alcohol-related liver problems and what alcohol will do to your liver. Now, here are the measures you should do to boost your liver health in your daily life.

First of all, the liver is the body’s natural cleanser

The liver naturally removes toxins and impurities. Not only do these so-called "liver cleansers" could be harmful, but they're contested since there's no scientific evidence to back them up.

Various studies show that liver cleansers may even damage the organ more so. What you need to do is incorporate healthy lifestyle practices to boost liver health. These are:

Cut back alcohol

Excessive alcohol consumption will damage the delivery. It produces a harmful by-product called acetaldehyde which destroys liver cells and tissues.

Regular alcohol drinking won’t let your liver rest and repair itself, thus, leading the organ impaired for a long time. What you need to do is cut back alcohol from your system and allow your liver to recover.

Eat cruciferous vegetables

Vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, and rutabaga are known to boost the liver’s natural detoxification enzymes.

Currently, scientists are researching how cruciferous vegetables may lead to fewer tumours and prevent fatty liver disease.

Consume lean protein and omega-3 fatty acids. Eating a healthy amount of lean proteins like chicken and fatty fish reduces the risk of liver inflammation.

Also, it lowers liver fat triglycerides and steatohepatitis, thus, preventing fatty liver and hepatitis.

Have regular exercise

Exercise benefits the whole body, especially your liver. Physical activity is a natural detoxifier for the liver.

What’s more, exercise aids in weight loss, cardiovascular health, and muscle and tissue repair.

As we work up a sweat, exercise will jumpstart the normal detox process by rinsing the lungs and cleansing the skin of toxins through secretion means.

It also promotes circulation and helps tissues heal themselves by pumping white blood cells across the body.

Get enough sleep

A good night’s sleep helps repair muscles, tissues, and organs in the body. Getting enough sleep is among the ways the body heals and protects itself from sickness. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep.

The liver also aids in regulating hormones, which are both essential to the body's sleep-wake cycle. People with chronic liver disease are often more likely to have sleep apnea, disrupting sleep consistency and duration.    

Your liver makes you ill, but it also makes you feel better. If your liver is still functioning, you need a little help keeping it working smoothly. Fortunately, it can be cleaned up with little downtime.

Final Thoughts

Medications and overuse of alcohol can cause inflammation in the liver. As a result, your body's natural defences become less effective.

If you're experiencing a symptom like digestive discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue, or heart palpitations, call your doctor.

Beverages, fruits, vegetables, and antioxidant-rich foods such as kale, spinach, and green tea, will reduce some damage.

Still, you also need to invest time in healing your body, which requires lifestyle adjustments.

They have shown to reduce the overall number of free radicals, and protect against oxidative damage to your cells, thus preventing further damage.

If you're looking for help, we have plenty of treatment centres in Abbeycare Scotland or Abbeycare Gloucester with recovery plans geared to each patient's individual needs.

You can reach us at 01603 513 091 if you or a loved one has concerns about alcoholism care.

About the author

Laura Morris

Laura Morris is an experienced clinical practitioner and CQC Registered Manager with over twenty years experience, over ten of which have been as an Independent Nurse Prescriber.

She has held a number of senior leadership roles in the substance use and mental health sector in the NHS, the prison service and in leading social enterprises in the field.

Last Updated: October 31, 2023