Problems

Jaundice This condition refers to a yellow discoloration of the skin and whites of the eyes due to an abnormally high level of bilirubin (bile pigment) in the blood. In newborns, jaundice is often caused by the breakdown of a large number of red blood cells, which can simply be treated by exposure to special lights and temporary bottle feeding. Otherwise, high levels of bilirubin may be caused by inflammation or other abnormalities of the liver cells, or blockage of the bile ducts. Jaundice is usually the first—and sometimes the only—sign of liver disease.

Cholestasis This condition refers to reduced or blocked bile flow that may occur inside or outside the liver (or in both places). Symptoms of problems with bile flow may include jaundice, dark urine, pale stool, bone loss, easy bleeding, itching, spidery blood vessels in the skin, enlarged spleen, fluid in the abdominal cavity, chills, pain, or enlarged gallbladder. Cholestasis can be caused by hepatitis, metabolic liver diseases, drug effects, a stone in the bile duct, narrowed bile duct, biliary atresia, or inflamed pancreas.

Liver enlargement An enlarged liver usually heralds some type of liver disease. While a slightly enlarged liver may cause no symptoms, a significant problem may trigger feelings of abdominal discomfort.

Portal hypertension Abnormally high blood pressure in the portal vein linking the intestine to the liver that may be due to higher blood pressure in the portal blood vessels or resistance to blood flow through the liver. Portal hypertension can trigger the growth of new blood vessels bypassing the liver, bringing blood from the intestine directly to the general circulation. When this occurs, substances that the liver normally would filter out instead pass into general circulation. Symptoms of portal hypertension may include a distended abdominal cavity, spider veins, and bleeding of the veins at the lower end of the esophagus and in the stomach lining.

Ascites This condition refers to fluid buildup in the abdominal cavity caused by fluid leaks from the vessels on the surface of the liver and intestine. Ascites due to liver disease usually accompanies other liver disease characteristics such as portal hypertension. Symptoms may include a distended abdomen, discomfort, and shortness of breath.

Liver encephalopathy This condition is caused by the deterioration of brain function due to toxic substances building up in the blood that are normally removed by the liver. Liver encephalopathy is also called portal-systemic encephalopathy, hepatic encephalopathy, or hepatic coma. Symptoms may include changes in mood, logical thinking, personality, and behavior; impaired judgment; drowsiness and confusion; sluggish speech and movement; disorientation; loss of consciousness and coma.

Liver failure This severe deterioration of liver function occurs when a large portion of the liver is damaged. Symptoms may include jaundice, bruising or bleeding, abdomen distention, impaired brain function, poor weight gain and growth, fatigue, weakness, nausea, and appetite loss.

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