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Hepatomegaly, also known as enlarged liver, is a condition in which the liver is enlarged over its normal dimensions. Hepatomegaly is a symptom of many different underlying liver conditions. It is always a cause for concern, a sign of a potentially serious problem. Liver disease can be sneaky, progressing for years towards damaging health without showing any overt symptoms, but when symptoms such as hepatomegaly do occur, that is always a sign that the disease has progressed to the point where it must be taken seriously.


Strictly speaking, hepatomegaly is itself a symptom; however, it is often accompanied by other overt symptoms including pain in the torso near the location of the liver (the upper right part of the body); other symptoms that often accompany hepatomegaly are generalized body pain, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, and abdominal swelling. Hepatomegaly is easily diagnosed through medical imaging techniques such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging).


Hepatomegaly can be a symptom of quite a few different liver disorders. These include fatty liver disease, cirrhosis of the liver, liver fibrosis, infectious or alcoholic hepatitis, and liver cancer. In fact, any disease that causes impaired functioning of the liver to any significant extent can give rise to hepatomegaly, although not always.  

Continued below....

Liver disease always arises from some underlying cause, which may include alcohol abuse, viral infections, obesity, diabetes, side effects of various medications or complications from nonmedicinal drug use, and heredity. In all cases, treatment of the underlying condition is called for in treating the liver disease itself, and hence symptoms such as hepatomegaly.


Occasionally, hepatomegaly can occur in children, for various causes, not all of them being the same as what afflicts adults. Common reasons between children and adults include heredity and viral infections, but  one of the most common causes of liver problems in adults, alcohol abuse, is rare in children. Some causes of hepatomegaly are unique to childhood. These include Alagille's syndrome, which can only happen in the first year of life, and also Reye's syndrome, fatty liver disease connected with the use of aspirin to treat childhood fevers.

Reye's syndrome in particular can be fatal and is the reason why aspirin is no longer recommended for childhood illnesses such as chicken pox or measles that may be accompanied by fever.


Treatment is not prescribed for hepatomegaly as such. Instead, it is prescribed for the liver condition underlying the symptom, or for the cause of that liver condition. Accordingly, the first thing a doctor will do is perform a thorough diagnosis to determine the problem with the liver and its underlying cause. This is likely to include blood tests and examination of the liver with medical imagine techniques, perhaps a liver biopsy, and evaluation of lifestyle factors such as body weight, diet, exercise, and alcohol intake.

Most commonly, the treatment involves changes in lifestyle. The single most commonly prescribed action to treat liver disorders is a cessation of drinking alcoholic beverages. Gradual weight loss through changes in diet and exercise may also be recommended. If the liver condition is more serious or has progressed further, a more aggressive treatment regimen including drugs, possibly cancer treatments such as radio- or chemotherapy, or in the final stages a liver transplant, may be recommended or needed.

Hepatomegaly, like all overt symptoms of liver disease, is always something to take seriously and to treat with respect. The liver is an absolutely vital organ whose functioning is impossible to survive without; there is a reason why the name of the organ literally means "that which lives."