Overview

A larger-than-normal liver may be a sign of a wide range of diseases. Although diseases of the liver itself often cause an enlarged liver, there are many other possible causes, including:

  • Bacteria, viruses and parasites
  • Certain heart conditions
  • Several genetic diseases
  • Some types of leukemia and lymphoma

The liver, a wedge-shaped organ on the right side of your upper abdomen, is the largest internal organ. An adult liver normally weighs between 2.6 and 3.3 pounds (1.2 to 1.5 kg) and measures an average of 5.9 inches (15 cm) in width.

It's very unusual to have an enlarged liver without other signs and symptoms that point to an underlying disease.

Symptoms

In itself, an enlarged liver typically has no symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of conditions that commonly cause liver enlargement include:

  • Pain in the upper right belly
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches (myalgia)
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite and weight loss
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any symptoms that worry you.

Causes

Among the most common causes of liver enlargement are:

  • Alcoholic liver disease, which includes alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a lifestyle-related metabolic disease
  • Viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, B, C, D or E )
  • Liver cancer, or cancer that has spread to the liver from a different organ

Many less-common liver diseases may also cause liver enlargement, as do some diseases that primarily affect other organs but involve the liver indirectly. A partial list includes:

Cancers

  • Some types of leukemia
  • Some types of lymphoma
  • Multiple myeloma

Genetic diseases

  • Hemochromatosis
  • Wilson's disease
  • Glycogen storage diseases
  • Gaucher's disease

Heart and blood vessel problems

  • Blockage of the veins that drain the liver (Budd-Chiari syndrome)
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Narrowing (stenosis) of the heart’s tricuspid or mitral valves

Infections

  • Liver abscess, caused by parasites (amebiasis) or bacteria
  • Other parasitic infections (schistosomiasis, fascioliasis)
  • Relapsing fever, which humans catch from body lice or ticks

Damage from toxins

  • Drug-induced liver injury from such medications as acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) and amoxicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin, Amoclans)
  • Toxic hepatitis from exposure to poisons, such as the industrial chemicals carbon tetrachloride and chloroform

Complex liver and systemic diseases

  • Amyloidosis
  • Autoimmune hepatitis
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis
  • Primary sclerosing cholangitis

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of liver problems include:

  • Excessive alcohol use. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can be damaging to your liver.
  • Large doses of medicines, vitamins or supplements. Taking larger than recommended doses of vitamins, supplements, or over-the-counter or prescription medicines may increase your risk of liver damage.
  • Medicinal herbs. Certain herbs, including comfrey, ma huang and mistletoe, can increase your risk of liver damage.

Prevention

To reduce your risk of liver disease, you can:

  • Choose a healthy diet. Choose a diet full of fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Drink alcohol in moderation, if at all. Check with your doctor to find out what's the right amount of alcohol for you, if any.
  • Follow directions when taking medications, vitamins or supplements. Limit yourself to the recommended doses when taking vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter or prescription medications.
  • Limit contact with chemicals. Use aerosol cleaners, insecticides and other toxic chemicals only in well-ventilated areas. In addition, wear gloves, long sleeves and a mask.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If your weight is healthy, work to maintain it. If you need to lose weight, cut back on the number of calories you eat each day and increase the amount of daily exercise. Ask your doctor about healthy ways to lose weight.
  • Use supplements with caution. Talk with your doctor about the risks and benefits of dietary supplements and herbal remedies before you take them. Many of these products can be harmful to your liver, particularly those containing combinations of ingredients and marketed for body-building or weight loss. Specific herbs to avoid include germander, chaparral, senna, mistletoe, comfrey, ma huang, valerian root, kava, celandine and green tea extracts.
Nov. 27, 2015
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