The liver is one of the most vital organs in the body. While we know about the major functions it performs to keep the bodily functions running smoothly such as removing toxins from the blood, supporting digestion, regulating hormones and cholesterol, apparently it also performs as many as 200 various roles. Without the liver, a human body cannot function for more than a fewer days.
Chronic liver diseases like liver cirrhosis, fatty liver, hepatitis, steatosis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if not treated on time can be life-threatening. One of the liver ailments wherein the liver gets abnormally enlarged is known as Hepatomegaly. At the onset of this disease, the body starts to feel some discomfort near the liver area. While this ailment is more often a symptom of disease rather than a health condition itself, it can be an indication of various underlying problems and may be accompanied by symptoms of other corresponding severe ailments.
People may also experience the following symptoms that could be an indication of an underlying liver problem. These may include:
- Severe Itching
- Swelling in the legs
- Extreme Fatigue
- Enlarged spleen
- Dark coloured urine
- Change in bowel habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Persistent Fever
There are many potential causes of hepatomegaly. Some of the most common are:
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): NAFLD is a liver condition associated with liver dysfunction. It occurs due to an underlying health condition such as diabetes or the accumulation of high fats and cholesterol in the body.
Hepatitis: Hepatitis is another word for inflammation of the liver. Short-term or chronic, it typically occurs because of liver damage due to excessive alcohol intake eventually causing a build-up of fat cells in the liver. It can also be due to certain viral infections.
Heart Failure: Heart failure can cause circulatory problems that increase pressure on the portal vein. This is a vessel of the portal venous system which performs the function to drain blood from the gastrointestinal tract, from the gallbladder, and the spleen towards the liver. Over time, this problem can lead to liver enlargement. All heart-related liver ailments are referred to as cardiac liver anomalies.
Steatosis: Steatosis is caused by having too much fat build up in your liver due to the accumulation of abnormal amounts of lipids in five percent or more hepatic cells. Steatosis can interfere with the ability of the liver to carry out vital functions. This otherwise harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells can only be diagnosed when tests are carried out for another reason. In some cases, it may lead to severe liver scarring or even cirrhosis of the liver.
Liver Cancer: Most common type of primary liver cancer is hepatocellular carcinoma. Most cancers originate in the liver and can arise in form of life-threatening illnesses.
To diagnose hepatomegaly, a thorough medical history is taken besides conducting a physical exam. The examination is done to sense the size, tenderness, and sensitivity of the liver. Imaging tests, such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI, and liver function test may also be conducted. Doctors also order blood tests to check the levels of different liver enzymes and see if there is a certain infection.
Treatment for hepatomegaly involves treating the underlying cause. Unless it is an end-stage liver disease that may require a liver transplant, there are different modes of cure such as:
- There is no specific treatment for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B and most people recover on their own after certain basic medication and prevention. However, Hepatitis B in chronic form needs antiviral medications to reduce damage caused to the liver.
- Chronic Hepatitis C infections require treatment with drugs that are also known as direct-acting antivirals. Hepatitis D patients are given treatment with pegylated interferon-alpha which slows the progression of this condition.
- In the case of ALD, which happens due to chronic alcohol consumption, treatment involves curing against alcohol abuse itself such as detoxification therapies, cognitive behaviour therapies, motivational therapy, or treatment for any co-occurring or comorbid mental health conditions.
- The treatment for NAFLD will depend partly on the underlying cause like making dietary changes, including reducing the intake of cholesterol and fats, controlling blood sugar levels, and managing underlying health conditions.
- Liver cancer will partly depend on whether the cancer is primary or secondary. Other factors to consider include the size and stage of cancer. Some potential treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, immunotherapy, or liver transplant.