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.

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:

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:

Continued

Inflammation or fatty liver. This could be from:

Abnormal growths may cause an enlarged liver. These may be due to:

  • Cysts
  • Tumors that start in or spread to the liver

A problem with blood flow. This may be due to a variety of conditions such as:

It might also be caused by veno-occlusive disease, which is a blockage in the small veins in your liver.

How you get treated for your enlarged liver depends on what's causing it. For example, if drinking too much alcohol is the source of the problem, you need to stop to avoid damage. Talk to your doctor to get advice on quitting. If you have an underlying disease, medication or other types of treatments may help.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on September 10, 2017

Sources

SOURCES:

Children's Hospital Boston: "Liver Failure."

University of Maryland Medical Center: "Liver Disease: Common Characteristics of Liver Disease."

Riley Hospital for Children: "Enlarged Liver/Spleen."

Merck Manual: "Cirrhosis."

Pediatric Education: "What Is the Differential Diagnosis of Hepatomegaly?"

Yu, Y.M. American Diabetes Care, February 2004.

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