Symptoms of liver disease

Liver problems develop silently with no obvious symptoms in the early stages yet the disease is largely preventable through lifestyle changes.

When symptoms develop, it is likely to be due to scarring of the liver from damage. This is known as cirrhosis.  Visit our cirrhosis page for more information.

What is cirrhosis?

Cirrhosis is the result of long-term, continuous damage to the liver and may be due to many different causes. The damage leads to scarring, known as fibrosis. Irregular bumps (nodules) replace the smooth liver tissue and the liver becomes harder. Together, the scarring and the nodules are called cirrhosis. 

If you have cirrhosis, you may develop one or more of the symptoms below. If you have or are worried about any of these symptoms discuss them with your doctor

Early symptoms

  • generally feeling unwell and tired all the time
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of weight and muscle wasting
  • feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
  • tenderness/pain in the liver area
  • spider-like small blood capillaries on the skin above waist level (spider angiomas)
  • blotchy red palms
  • disturbed sleep patterns

Later symptoms, as the liver is struggling to function

  • intensely itchy skin
  • yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice)
  • white nails
  • ends of fingers become wider/thicker (clubbed fingers)
  • hair loss
  • swelling of the legs, ankles, feet (oedema)
  • swelling of the abdomen (ascites)
  • dark urine
  • pale-coloured stools or very dark/black tarry stools
  • frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • easy bruising and diffi culty in stopping small bleeds
  • vomiting blood
  • frequent muscle cramps
  • right shoulder pain
  • in men: enlarged breasts and shrunken testes
  • in women: irregular or lack of menstrual periods
  • impotence and loss of sexual desire
  • dizziness and extreme fatigue (anaemia)
  • shortness of breath
  • very rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
  • fevers with high temperature and shivers
  • forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion and drowsiness
  • subtle change in personality
  • trembling hands
  • writing becomes difficult, spidery and small
  • staggering gait when walking; tendency to fall
  • increased sensitivity to drugs, both medical and recreational
  • increased sensitivity to alcohol

Red flag symptoms

If you have any of the following symptoms you must see a doctor straight away, especially if you have recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis:

  • fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
  • shortness of breath
  • vomiting blood
  • very dark or black tarry stools (faeces)
  • periods of mental confusion or drowsiness.

Although these symptoms may seem very different, because your liver is responsible for so many different functions, if it stops working properly, a range of problems can result.