Symptoms of Liver Disease

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Liver disease is an umbrella term for any disease that damages the liver. The signs and symptoms of liver disease are not always obvious right away. When symptoms do appear, some of the most common include yellowing of the eyes and skin on lighter skin tones (jaundice), abdominal pain, swelling in the legs, and changes to the color of urine or stool. These signs and symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause of liver disease and the individual person.

This article provides an overview of the signs and symptoms that often appear in liver disease and goes over when you should consider seeing a healthcare provider for your symptoms.

Someone with yellowed pupils, possibly indicating jaundice.

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Frequent Symptoms

From fatty liver disease to hepatitis, researchers have identified more than 100 different types of liver disease. While the key symptoms for each specific condition can vary, there are several that many liver diseases share.

Some of the most frequent signs and symptoms of liver disease include:

  • Yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin in people with lighter skin tones (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain (especially below the right side of the rib cage)
  • Swelling of the legs or abdomen
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Bleeding and bruising easily
  • Loss of appetite or poor digestion
  • Confusion or agitation

These signs will start when the liver is unable to function properly. This can happen gradually and may not be noticeable right away. In some cases, the symptoms may progress fairly quickly.

For example, liver conditions like fatty liver disease, genetic liver disease, and hepatitis B, C, and D typically do not cause immediate symptoms and are linked to a slower progression of liver damage. On the other hand, the symptoms of viral hepatitis A and E can start as soon as a few weeks after exposure.  

Some people do not experience any noticeable symptoms of liver disease and may look and feel fine until the condition is advanced.

Rare Symptoms

Symptoms like jaundice are typically one of the first signs associated with liver disease, but there are also some less-common signs that can appear. These include:

These symptoms can happen later in the course of liver disease.

The advancement of liver disease usually begins with inflammation, leads to initial scarring (fibrosis), progresses to severe scarring (cirrhosis), and can potentially result in liver failure. As the last stage of liver disease, liver failure is when the organ loses its ability to perform essential functions and can be life-threatening if not treated quickly.

Complications/Sub-Group Indications

In general, some possible complications that can happen as a result of liver disease include:

  • Ascites: a collection of fluid in the abdomen
  • Hepatic encephalopathy: a buildup of toxins in the brain that leads to confusion and behavioral changes
  • Portal hypertension: an increase in pressure in the portal vein that can cause swelling and bleeding
  • Enlargement of the spleen: caused by blood flow blockage from the spleen to the liver
  • An increased risk for bacterial infections: due to a weakened immune system
  • An increased risk of developing liver cancer: due to damage from viral hepatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, and other factors.

In older adults, liver disease can cause some specific complications, such as:

Pregnant people with liver disease may experience complications related to childbirth, including:

When to See a Healthcare Provider

Liver disease can potentially become life-threatening if it's not treated in time. Seek medical attention right away if you notice the following signs, in addition to the frequent symptoms of liver disease:

  • Extreme fatigue
  • Unusual confusion, agitation, or change in alertness
  • Abdominal or chest pain that doesn't go away
  • Abdominal swelling that is new or suddenly becomes worse
  • Fever
  • Vomiting blood
  • Blood in the urine or stool
  • Shortness of breath 

The liver is an organ that has the ability to repair and regenerate itself. This is why early diagnosis is key for treating liver damage. Many types of liver disease can be cured or managed with the right care. However, liver disease damage can become irreversible or life-threatening.


While each type of liver disease is unique, there are several common symptoms that point to liver damage. People with liver disease may not notice any signs at all at first but may experience symptoms like jaundice, abdominal pain, swelling in the legs, urine or stool color changes, and fatigue. As the disease progresses, lesser-known symptoms like itchy skin, weight changes, and loss of brain function can occur.

A Word From Verywell

Roughly 4.5 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with liver disease. Many others likely have liver disease but have yet to recognize the signs. If it's accessible to you, it’s important to get regular medical checkups. This will help you stay on top of any early signs of liver disease. Depending on the underlying cause of the disease, know that many liver conditions can be managed through treatment methods like lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.

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Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Cristina Mutchler
Cristina Mutchler is an award-winning journalist with more than a decade of experience in national media, specializing in health and wellness content.