Symptoms & Tests

Most people don’t realise at first that they have a problem with their liver. That’s because liver disease and liver damage rarely cause symptoms in the early stages.

You may only find out you have a liver condition because it shows up on blood test or a scan for something else. You may feel completely well at this time.

This page covers the signs and symptoms that may occur with liver disease, and what to do if you’re worried.


Could I have liver disease?

At first, the signs of liver disease are often vague. If you have early liver disease, you might feel more tired and weak than normal or you might feel a bit nauseous (sick).

Some other signs of early liver disease include:

  • feeling generally unwell
  • losing weight and muscle
  • pain or tenderness in the liver area (upper right side of your body)
  • spider veins on the skin above the level of your waist
  • red, blotchy palms
  • disturbed sleep, waking up during the night

Symptoms of more serious disease depend on the condition and how much damage there is to your liver.

Signs your liver is struggling include:

  • yellow skin or white of the eyes (jaundice)
  • dark urine
  • nausea (feeling like you are going to vomit)
  • vomiting (being sick)
  • diarrhoea
  • bloating (swollen tummy)
  • not feeling hungry
  • fever
  • swollen legs, ankles or feet
  • very itchy skin
  • hair loss
  • bruising easily
  • anaemia (not having enough iron in the blood – you have pale skin; the insides of your eyelids or your fingernails are pale)
  • frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums
  • frequent muscle cramps
  • pain in the right shoulder
  • dizziness
  • vomiting blood
  • black or light coloured poos
  • being confused or drowsy
  • memory loss
  • staggering or falling a lot
  • finding it harder to write, spidery handwriting
  • trembling hands
  • changes in your personality, being moody or cranky
  • forgetfulness
  • poor sleep
  • very rapid heart rate
  • being more sensitive to alcohol or drugs
  • erectile dysfunction in men (not being able to get an erection), or losing sexual desire
  • irregular periods or no periods in women

When should I see my doctor about my liver?

Talk to your GP if you have some of the symptoms of liver disease listed above and they don’t go away over time.

Seek medical help straight away if you:

  • get jaundiced – your skin and eyes go yellow (it means your liver is struggling, or your liver disease is getting worse)
  • are drowsy and confused or very sleepy
  • vomit blood or have black poos (it means there is bleeding in your food pipe or stomach and can be life threatening)
  • have a high fever and feel shivery
  • are short of breath
  • have a very swollen belly
  • develop sudden stomach pain or fever

Am I at risk of liver disease?

Liver disease is very common in Australia. It affects people of all ages, but is most common between the ages of 50 and 65.

Some clues you might be at risk of liver problems are:

  • you are overweight or obese
  • you drink an unhealthy amount of alcohol
  • you have diabetes, heart disease or high blood pressure
  • you might have been exposed to viral hepatitis
  • you are taking a new medication or lots of different medications, or you think you might have mixed up your medications
  • you have taken certain alternative or herbal medicines or tonics including those bought on the internet
  • you have taken too much of a medicine such as for pain
  • you have a close relative with liver disease
  • you have a condition that may be associated with liver disease, such as colitis

Some people are born with genes that can cause liver disease. If you have a close relative (parent or sibling) who has a liver condition, you may also be at risk.


What next?

If you are worried about your liver, the next step is to see your GP. They will talk to you about any symptoms you may have, your lifestyle and your family. They may examine you and order some tests.

Read more about liver tests 

References

Adams LA, Roberts SK, Strasser SI, Mahady SE, Powell E, Estes C, Razavi H, George J. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease burden: Australia, 2019-2030. J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2020 Sep;35(9):1628-1635. doi: 10.1111/jgh.15009. Epub 2020 Feb 26. PMID: 32048317; PMCID: PMC7540570.

Australasian Association for Clinical Biochemistry and Laboratory Medicine. Pathology Tests Explained; Liver disease 

British Liver Trust. Cirrhosis of the liver.

Chalasani N, Younossi Z, Lavine JE, Charlton M, Cusi K, Rinella M, Harrison SA, Brunt EM, Sanyal AJ. The diagnosis and management of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: Practice guidance from the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Hepatology. 2018 Jan;67(1):328-357. doi: 10.1002/hep.29367. Epub 2017 Sep 29. PMID: 28714183.

Hepatitis NSW. Signs and Symptoms of Liver Damage or Disease.

Mayo Clinic; Liver disease

MSD Manual. Overview of Liver Disease.

The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. Australian Family Physician; Volume 42, Issue 7, July 2013. Fatty liver disease A practical guide for GPs. 

Victorian Government. Better Health Channel; Liver 

Reviewed November 2022

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