Hepatomegaly

Hepatomegaly means the liver is larger than normal (enlarged). Some health problems can cause the liver to get bigger. Some people have an enlarged liver but do not know it.

CAUSES

Possible causes of hepatomegaly include:

  • Liver disease, such as:

  • Cirrhosis. This is long-term (chronic) liver damage often caused by drinking too much alcohol. Cirrhosis may also be caused by other liver problems.

  • Hepatitis. This is an infection of the liver.

  • Fatty liver disease.

  • Disorders that cause things to accumulate in the liver (Wilson's disease, amyloidosis, hemochromatosis).

  • Cancer. The disease may start in the liver, or cancer may start somewhere else in the body and spread to the liver.

  • Heart or blood vessel disease. These can cause hepatomegaly if blood backs up into the liver.

SYMPTOMS

Some people have no symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Abdominal pain on the right side.

  • Fatigue.

  • Loss of appetite.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).

DIAGNOSIS

To decide if your liver is enlarged, a caregiver will ask about your history and perform a physical exam. The caregiver may press on the right side of your abdomen to feel your liver. This is a way to check if the edge of your liver sticks out below your rib cage. Your caregiver may also order some tests that include:

  • Blood tests. These tests check whether your liver is working like it should be. They also check for infection.

  • Imaging tests. These are tests that take pictures of your liver. They may include:

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan. This is an X-ray guided by a computer.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This test creates pictures by using magnets and a computer.

  • An ultrasound. Images are made using sound waves.

  • Liver biopsy. A small sample of liver tissue is taken out and examined under a microscope.

TREATMENT

Treatment of hepatomegaly depends on what is causing it.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

What you need to do at home depends on the cause of your hepatomegaly. In general:

  • Take all medicine as directed by your caregiver. Follow the directions carefully. Do not start taking any new medicine unless your caregiver says it is okay. This includes over-the-counter medicines, supplements, and herbal remedies. Some of these can hurt your liver.

  • Stay at a healthy weight.

  • Follow a healthy diet. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Do not drink alcohol.

  • Do not smoke.

  • Keep all follow-up appointments to make sure your treatment is working and your liver stays healthy.

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You have increased or localized abdominal pain.

  • You have persistent vomiting.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You vomit bright red blood or blood that looks like coffee grounds.

  • You have chest pain.

  • You have trouble breathing.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.