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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.

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

Symptoms

Most of the time, if you have a slightly enlarged liver, you won't notice any symptoms. If it's severely swollen, though, you may have:

  • A feeling of fullness
  • Discomfort in your belly

Depending on the cause of your enlarged liver, you may notice symptoms like:

  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss

Diagnosis

Your doctor will do a physical exam to see if your liver is larger than it should be. He may also order some blood tests to help figure out what's causing it.

He might also try to get a better look at your liver by asking that you get some images made with these:

  • CT scan, which is a powerful X-ray
  • MRI, which uses powerful magnets and radio waves
  • Ultrasound, which uses sound waves

There are other ways your doctor can look for the cause of your enlarged liver. He may use an ERCP, a scope that checks for problems in the ducts (tubes) that carry bile. An MRCP, a special type of MRI, also helps spot that kind of trouble. And he may want to take a small sample of liver cells to check for cancer or a condition called fatty liver.

Causes

Your enlarged liver might be due to one of these causes:

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