Last reviewed by Dr. Raj MD on January 12th, 2022.
What is an Enlarged Liver?
Enlarged liver is a condition medically known as Hepatomegaly and is described as an increase in the size of liver from its normal average size. The occurrence of enlarged liver is not a disease but a sign of many underlying conditions affecting the growth in size of liver.
The human body consists of many organs and the liver is regarded as the largest internal organ among any other organs. It is a vital organ that can be located on the upper right area of the abdominal cavity just below the diaphragm atop the stomach. The liver is a cone shaped organ with dark reddish color and weighs approximately 3 lbs. The growth in size of liver is usually completed by the age of 15 years with an adult male size of about 8 to 12 cm and adult female size of approximately 6 to 10cm. It’s composed of four lobes with unequal size and shape and is connected to two large vessels known as the hepatic artery and hepatic portal vein.
The function of liver is for the synthesis of chemicals in the blood and excretion of waste away from the liver. Other important chemical composition in the blood is also synthesized by the liver and its function is carried out by the four liver lobules. Bile is one of the important productions of the liver that facilitates the breakdown of fats in the small intestine during the process of digestion and carries it away from the liver. The blood and nutrient from the stomach and intestine passes through the liver and are then processed into forms easier to utilize by the rest of the body.
Enlarged Liver Symptoms
The liver performs more than a hundred of vital functions in the body. Interruption in any of its function can lead to a systemic illness especially when left untreated. Multiple disease and disorders can affect the liver and results to the increase in size beyond the average size of a normal functioning liver.
The symptoms of liver enlargement depend on the existing underlying condition that affects the size of the liver. Hepatomegaly usually has no signs and symptoms but when the increase in size reaches a considerable size, the signs and symptoms include the following:
- Pain and discomfort due to pressure on the surrounding organs and nerves put on by the increase in size of liver.
- Abdominal pain and feeling of fullness.
- Nausea and vomiting
- Observable yellowing of the skin and the white area of the eyes or known as jaundice.
The lower edge of the liver generally does not extend to the bottom of the right rib cage where the liver is located. A significant increase in the size of the liver can have its edge palpated at the bottom of the rib cage when the patient takes a deep inhalation or breathing.
A lot of factors can influence the increase of the size of the liver beyond the normal or average size. Enlargement of the liver itself is medically nonspecific but a consequence of an existing underlying condition.
The cause of liver enlargement can be accounted to numerous underlying conditions that may or may not have direct relation to the liver. The cause of liver to enlarge may include the following:
Diseases of the Liver directly affect the size resulting from swelling resulting from conditions such as:
- Hepatitis resulting from viral infection of from viruses of hepatitis A, B or C.
- Cirrhosis resulting in the scarring of the liver and affecting the normal function of the liver which contributes to the swelling of the liver.
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease due to excessive or abuse alcohol intake and is regarded as the most common cause of liver enlargement.
Blood Disorders also contribute to swelling of the liver thus increase in size of the liver
Budd-Chiari syndrome is a condition involving the hepatic vein which is responsible for depleting blood from the liver to the heart
Cancers such as liver cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and other forms of cancer can greatly affect the liver and its size.
Other causes of liver enlargement include the following:
- Glycogen storage disease
- Viral hepatitis
- Sclerosing cholangitis
- Congestive heart failure
- Autoimmune disease
Enlargement of the liver is not a condition or disease but a consequence of an existing underlying condition that contributes to the incidence of increase in size beyond the average. The treatment geared towards the underlying condition that causes the incidence.
Alcohol abuse resulting in liver enlargement for instance can be addressed with a change in lifestyle by ceasing from taking too much alcohol. Inflammation of the liver due to hepatitis is managed with anti-inflammatory drugs while also treating the disease. Other diseases and disorders resulting in enlargement of the liver must be identified and given prompt treatment as the enlargement of the liver itself is not potentially fatal but the underlying condition.