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Liver Pain: Location, Causes and Treatment

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The liver is the largest internal organ of the human body, weighing about 1½ kilograms. It is situated in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen below the rib cage.

Location of the liver:  on the right side, mostly inside the rib cage

Location of the liver: on the right side, mostly inside the rib cage

What the Liver Does

The liver serves hundreds of functions in the body. These include:

  • Detoxification of hormones, drugs, toxins, and waste products
  • Secretion of bile
  • Production of proteins required for blood clotting
  • Production of chemicals that aid in digestion
  • Production of hormones
  • Decomposition of red blood cells
  • Production of amino acids
  • Metabolism of carbohydrates: synthesis, breakdown and storage (as glycogen)
  • Metabolism and synthesis of proteins
  • Metabolism of fats

The liver is essential to life; although some of its functions can be replaced for a few weeks by dialysis, it is so vital that if it fails, a liver transplant may be required to save a life.

Usual Location Of Liver Pain: Upper Right Abdomen

Location of liver pain (medically known as hepatalgia), is typically felt in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen, just beneath the rib cage. The pain is often vague and dull, but it can turn sharp and severe and may occur with back ache. Although the liver itself doesn’t have pain receptors, the membrane that covers it does, and if the liver swells it exerts pressure on those receptors and causes pain.

Sometimes when liver issues are causing pain, the pain seems to be coming from the right shoulder.

In addition to problems with the liver itself, there are other possible causes of pain in or near the upper right abdomen:

  • Gastritis (inflammation of the stomach due to increased acidity)
  • Ascites (buildup of fluid in the abdomen)
  • Other abdominal issues
  • Backache
  • Kidney pain
  • Gallstones
  • Bile duct issues
  • Pancreatitis
  • Intestinal issues such as irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pneumonia in the lower right lung

Consult a doctor for help finding out the cause of pain that seems to be in the area of the liver.

For further info on liver location.

Causes of Liver Pain

Pain in the liver could have a variety of causes:

  • Hepatitis or inflammation of the liver, which can be caused by viruses or alcohol abuse.
  • Fatty liver, or steatosis, the accumulation of large amounts of fat in the liver. Fatty liver may be caused by alcohol abuse, or by obesity or metabolic syndrome.
  • Damage caused by toxins or drugs.
  • Liver cancer. Cancer may originate in the liver as a result of cirrhosis, viral infections, or chronic alcohol abuse, or it may occur when cancer elsewhere metastasizes (relocates) to the liver.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver, or replacement of much of the liver by scar tissue; this can be a long-term result of viral infections (such as hepatitis B and C) or alcohol abuse.
  • Rare inherited disorders, such as hemochromatosis and Wilson’s disease, which can cause hepatitis, cirrhosis and eventually liver failure.

Alcohol Abuse and Liver Pain

Alcohol abuse is a major cause of many painful liver conditions. The liver plays a pivotal role in filtering toxins, like alcohol, out of the blood. When alcohol is consumed, it first gets absorbed into the blood stream from the stomach and intestines, and then most of it gets broken down by the liver. Thus heavy drinking, by overworking the liver, can cause inflammation, fatty liver, and eventually cirrhosis or cancer.

Symptoms Often Associated With Liver Pain

Symptoms of a malfunctioning liver are varied, and may go unnoticed in the beginning. Liver disease can cause many symptoms such as:

  • A yellow color to the eyes and skin
  • Sharp and stabbing pain
  • Excessive sweating
  • Strong body odor
  • Bad breath
  • Reddish palms and soles, accompanied by itching and inflammation
  • Loss of appetite
  • Joint pain
  • Weight loss
  • Abdominal bloating
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Swelling of the testicles
  • High fever
  • Rapid heart rate

Diagnosis of Liver Problems

It is very important to diagnose what is causing liver pain. Here are some of the tests your doctor may use to find the cause of the pain:

  • Urine and blood tests are very useful: levels of bilirubin, liver enzymes (SGPT and SGOT) and alpha fetoprotein show how well the liver is functioning.
  • If liver pain is associated with other symptoms, endoscopy and ultrasound are done to identify the extent of liver damage from cirrhosis or fatty liver.
  • Liver biopsy (taking a tissue sample from the organ for analysis) is less common than it used to be but can still help diagnose liver problems.

Liver Pain Treatment

The treatment of liver pain depends on its cause. Appropriate and timely diagnosis will help in designing an adequate treatment plan. Drugs and surgery can treat some liver diseases. Liver transplants may be required as a last-ditch effort to save a patient with liver disease.

Liver Health

To have a healthy liver your whole life, you will want to avoid alcoholism, obesity, and exposure to hepatitis viruses. While supplements are no subsitute for medical attention—if you have pain, you should go to a doctor—there is some evidence that milk thistle extract benefits some liver diseases.

Comments

skperdon from Canada on October 28, 2015:

A very informative hub! Thank you for writing and sharing it.

I knew very little about the liver, now that I've read your hub, I'm going to take very good care of it.

becky on August 19, 2015:

Very informative article

Me on June 07, 2015:

Thank you :)

DESTINY on November 20, 2014:

I am 20 years old and have the diagnosis of "Hepatomegaly", which is enlargement of the liver. Doctors said my spleen is also slightly enlarged. I was surprised, because in Feb they diagnosed me with "PERICARDITIS" and I had a surgery that left my lovely skin with a long nasty scar.. I thought the surgery was supposed to have cured these problems. Now I am having random spurts of back pain..idk if i should be worried..

Dr Rajesh (author) from India on October 03, 2014:

thanks @ linfcor

Linda F Correa from Spring Hill Florida on October 02, 2014:

Autoimmune disorders cause liver pain as well. I have Primary Biliary Cirrhosis which is a liver disease uncommon and not related to alcohol use or abuse. It is an autoimmune disorder which causes the liver to destroy it's own cells. Eventually leads to cirrhosis. It is a slowly progressive disease. There is only one medication to slow it down. Research is continuing. Eventually, liver transplant is necessary. This was a very informative hub.

confused and concerned on August 27, 2014:

I am a mother of 6 great kids,and I'm afraid they are going to lose me,and it makes me worry in so many ways,heart wrenching! I am so sick and getting know useful help I have bad pain and burning in my upper right rib,swelling with a large lump under the edge of the rib. Fever and sweating daily cannot sleep cause of pain and stress of it all.I was in th hosp. 6 wks ago started with stomach pain then severe bleeding from rectum slept on porta potty for the first 2days had no feeling of having bowel bleeding or.one cat scan and lab work no test results but was told from cat scan that my liver was very swollen as well as my bowels and stomach.no hepatitis and never drank alcohol. My blood pressure was high as well as fever. I'm sick all the time and just want to get help! I got more info and help from you than anyone.thank you..I have a little bit more info and understanding things more :)

Satvinder S. Sihra from Queens, NY on June 29, 2014:

I like how you clearly highlighted the causes and the symptoms. Your hub has a nice structure. What other pathological hubs do you have?

Dr Rajesh (author) from India on June 25, 2014:

we can say - Skin is the largest "organ" in the body and Liver is the largest "gland" in the body.

Note: All glands are organs but not the other way!

Ole on June 25, 2014:

Internally, it is the biggest Organ, but the skin / flesh, is the biggest organ!

Dr Rajesh (author) from India on June 24, 2014:

yes Wlich ! sorry about your condition ! you need to consult the doctor because its related to the ongoing treatment and your doctor will be the best person to address it ! Don't worry everything will be fine ... tc

wlich on June 23, 2014:

About 2 yrs ago, I thought I had a hiatal hernia but was diagnosed w an enlarged liver. Never gave me any problems. I began taking Neurontin for my fibromyalgia about a week ago and now, I have this terrible pressure under my rib cage on the right side for the last two days. I also have excessive sweating, fatigue, muscle pain & weakness (all of which could be related to the FM). Is it possible that the new med has irritated my liver? If so, is this something I need to see my doctor about? I also started itching like crazy for about 2 hrs after I take the med but its tolerable. If I keep taking the med, is there any danger to my liver? Thanks!

Hassan on June 14, 2014:

Very useful and simple narration to understand

nikki on May 26, 2014:

Very informative n helpful indeed

Keri Rowe on February 06, 2014:

Very useful info thank you

somesh sisodia on January 19, 2014:

V.nice

ritu manhas on September 26, 2013:

a lot of thanks. it provides treasure of knowledge!

Muskan on August 28, 2013:

Nice

Keri Machin from Miami Florida on August 25, 2013:

interesting hub thank you. great job on it!

Dr Rajesh (author) from India on May 27, 2013:

thanks :) a lot and I am glad you like it !

Shelley Watson on May 26, 2013:

Thank you for a very informative and interesting hub on the liver. Up, interesting and useful.