How to Check for Enlarged Liver



Enlarged Liver (Hepatomegaly)

If your doctor tells you that you’ve got an enlarged liver, it means it’s swollen beyond its normal size. There’s usually another condition that’s causing it, such as hepatitis. You have a lot of treatment choices, but you first need to find out the source of the problem.

Getting treated is important. Your liver has a lot of big jobs to do. Just to name a few key ones, it helps clean your blood by getting rid of harmful chemicals that your body makes. It makes a liquid called bile, which helps you break down fat from food. And it also stores sugar, called glucose, which gives you a quick back-up energy boost when you need it.

Depending on what’s causing your liver to swell, you could end up with long-term damage if you don’t get treated.

Additional procedures

Once your doctor determines that you have an enlarged liver, other tests and procedures may be recommended to learn the cause. They may include:

  • Blood tests. A blood sample is tested to determine liver enzyme levels. This can give clues about the health of your liver. Blood tests can also identify viruses that can cause enlarged liver, such as the hepatitis viruses.
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests include computerized tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Magnetic resonance elastography uses sound waves to create a visual map (elastogram) of the stiffness of liver tissue. This new test is noninvasive and can be an alternative to a liver biopsy. Magnetic resonance elastography is currently offered at relatively few medical centers, but it’s expected to be available at most major medical centers soon.
  • Removing a sample of liver tissue for testing (liver biopsy). Your doctor may recommend a biopsy to collect a sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing. A liver biopsy is often done using a long, thin needle that’s inserted through your skin and into your liver. The needle draws out a core of tissue that is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

What other symptoms might occur with enlarged liver?

Enlarged liver may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.

Gastrointestinal symptoms that may occur along with enlarged liver

Enlarged liver may accompany other symptoms affecting the gastrointestinal system including:

  • Abdominal swelling, distention or bloating
  • Bleeding gums
  • Bloody stool (blood may be red, black, or tarry in texture)
  • Diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea with or without vomiting
  • Pale or clay-colored stools

Other symptoms that may occur along with enlarged liver

Enlarged liver may accompany symptoms related to other body systems including:

  • Discolored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Fever or chills
  • Headache
  • Itchy skin
  • Joint pain
  • Loss of body hair
  • Malaise or lethargy
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Redness on the palms of the hands
  • Spider angiomas (red skin lesion consisting of small blood vessels that spread out in a pattern that resembles a spider web)
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Serious symptoms that might indicate a life-threatening condition

In some cases, enlarged liver may be a symptom of a life-threatening condition that should be evaluated immediately in an emergency setting. Seek immediate medical care (call 911) if you, or someone you are with, have any of these life-threatening symptoms including:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling, distention or bloating
  • Agitation
  • Change in mental status or sudden behavior change, such as confusion, delirium, lethargy, hallucinations and delusions
  • Difficulty walking
  • Rapid heart rate (tachycardia)
  • Severe fatigue
  • Vomiting blood or black material (resembling coffee grounds)