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Swollen liver, also known as enlarged liver or heptomegaly, is a symptom of liver disease in which the liver swells to a size larger than normal. This can be a symptom of several different disorders of the liver. It is always a sign that something of real concern is taking place, since liver diseases often occur (especially in their early stages) without any symptoms at all. When symptoms, including swollen liver, show up, it's a sign that whatever is going wrong needs to be taken quite seriously.

A swollen liver can often be seen externally, showing itself as a swelling in the upper torso (where the liver is located in the body). It is sometimes accompanied by pain in the same region, and by other symptoms of liver disorders, including body pains generally, nausea, vomiting, and loss of apetite. Even when no external swelling or other symptoms show up, swollen liver can be identified using medical imaging methods, such as ultrasound or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).


Many different liver diseases can produce swollen liver as a symptom. These include fatty liver disease (a disorder characterized by the presence of fatty globules in the liver) and liver fibrosis, up to and including extremely serious diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver, infectious hepatitis, or liver cancer.

Any disease causing a significant amount of liver impairment can result in a swollen liver -- although this is not a certainty. Whatever is causing the swollen liver is the same as what's causing the underlying disease. That may include alcohol abuse (one of the most common causes of liver disease), obesity, viral infections, side effects of certain medications, or hereditary conditions. Continued below..


Although liver disease in general and swollen liver in particular are more common among adults, the conditions can sometimes occur in children as well, for many different reasons, not all of them the same as for adults. One cause of swollen liver occurs only among children in the first year of life: Alagille's syndrome, which is a deterioration of the bile ducts (these are the ducts conducting bile from the liver to the gall bladder).

Two other child-specific causes are glactosemia (inability to digest milk sugars, a hereditary condition); and Reye's syndrome, a potentially-fatal liver disorder that arises with the use of aspirin to treat childhood diseases involving fever. Many of the same causes as occur in adults also afflcit children, although alcohol abuse is rarely a problem.


There is no treatment for swollen liver per se. Instead, the underlying cause of the liver disorder must be identified and treatment tailored to that. An exact diagnosis must come first, together with determination of how far the disease has progressed; lifestyle factors need to be examined as well to identify potential causes in diet, exercise, body weight, alcohol consumption, viral infection, and anything else that could cause liver damage.

Treatment of the condition causing the swollen liver is also treatment of the symptom itself. This can involve lifestyle changes, weight loss, treatment of any infections that are present, appropriate treatment for cancer -- there is really no way to say what the appropriate course of treatment should be without properly identifying the cause of the condition. If liver function has been compromised sufficiently that natural recovery is not possible, a liver transplant may be necessary.

What is certain is that if a liver disorder has progressed to the point where symptoms such as swollen liver are present, not treating it isn't an option. The liver has remarkable ability to repair itself, but it's absolutely necessary that some treatment, whether a simple lifestyle change or something more aggressive, be undertaken when the damage is sufficient to produce symptoms.

Swollen Liver