Liver function

Drinking excess alcohol can cause liver pain, damage and lead to liver disease or cirrhosis. Long-term alcohol use is linked to chances of developing liver cancer.
Drinking excess alcohol can cause liver pain, damage and lead to liver disease or cirrhosis. Long-term alcohol use is linked to chances of developing liver cancer.

The liver is a very important body organ. Apart from helping you to process nutrients like fats and proteins, it also removes harmful substances from the body. One such substance is alcohol. In addition, your liver has more than 500 other known functions. When you drink a lot of alcohol, even for a few days, your liver can be damaged. 

Sometimes the symptoms of serious liver diseases are not noticeable. But one of the sure signs of liver disease is when you feel pain in your liver after drinking alcohol. Consult your doctor if your liver hurts after drinking alcohol. Causes of pain originating in the liver itself include chronic hepatitis (liver inflammation), fatty liver disease, liver abscess, and liver cancer.

Signs and symptoms of liver pain after drinking alcohol

Abdominal pain

Pain in the liver can sometimes be confused with stomach pain. Normally, if your liver is painful, you should feel it on the right side of your abdomen. The pain can also occur in the front center of your belly, or just under the lower right ribs. The pain can be throbbing or stabbing, and it may come and go.

Pain in the right shoulder

A problem in your liver can also cause pain in your right shoulder. A doctor will have to rule out polycystic liver disease, or the presence of cysts in the organ. 

Enlarged liver

Drinking a lot of alcohol may cause the liver to swell. An enlargement that is accompanied by pain or other symptoms like nausea and vomiting needs to be checked by a doctor. 

Fever

Sometimes, pain in the liver is accompanied by a fever. Although this could be a sign of more than one condition, it could mean that your liver has an abscess or a pocket of pus. Cysts or pockets of fluid in your liver can also give you a fever, discomfort, and pain in the upper right side of your belly or shoulder.

Nausea and vomiting

When you feel like vomiting or actually vomit after drinking alcohol, it could mean that your stomach is irritated or your liver is in danger. Vomiting is your body’s way of getting rid of harmful substances. Instead of overworking the liver with too much alcohol, your body decides to get rid of some through vomiting. 

Unexplained vomiting could mean that there is something wrong with your liver, and it should get checked by a doctor.

Types of liver diseases

The many kinds of liver diseases include:

QUESTION

Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause: See Answer

Causes of a painful liver after consuming alcohol

Drinking too much

Too many alcoholic drinks in just one session or drinking moderately a number of times may cause a variety of diseases of the liver. Your doctor may mention alcohol-related liver disease. 

Alcohol-related liver disease

This condition begins with fat collecting in the liver, resulting in a fatty liver. You might not have any symptoms, but there is a possibility of a loss of appetite, a painful abdomen, and nausea. The most common sign that you have hepatitis is jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the white part of your eyes). 

When this condition continues for a long time, it can develop into cirrhosis or advanced liver disease. At this stage, your liver is almost irreversibly damaged. This causes a person to experience tiredness, abdominal pain, weight loss, itchy skin, and loss of appetite.

Liver damage

Your liver does not have pain receptors inside it. For anyone to feel pain in the liver, the organ might be in danger of getting damaged. Many people who are diagnosed with liver diseases caused by alcohol often underestimate the amount they drink. The only way to protect yourself from liver damage is by reducing the amount of alcohol you drink or abstain completely. 

Liver cancer

About 30,000 Americans are diagnosed with primary liver cancer every year. Long-term alcohol use is linked to an elevated risk of the disease. The more damaged a person’s liver is, the higher the chances are of developing cancer

When to see the doctor for a painful liver

If left untreated, liver damage can lead to serious complications and, finally, death. Consult your doctor if you drink alcohol and notice the following:

  • Your appetite has reduced
  • The upper right side of your abdomen hurts
  • Your right shoulder is painful
  • Your belly feels full even after eating a little
  • Your skin and eyes have changed color
  • Your urine and stool look darker

Diagnosis and tests for liver disease

Your doctor will need to perform a liver function test or a blood test that measures the different products of the liver. If it turns out that any of the substances being measured is not within the normal range, it may be a sign of liver disease. To perform the test, a blood sample will be taken from a vein in your arm using a small needle.

Treatments for liver pain after drinking alcohol

The most effective treatment for a liver that is painful after drinking alcohol is to quit the habit. Studies show that abstaining from alcohol can help an individual recover from early-stage alcohol-related liver complications.  

However, even if you have quit drinking, consult your doctor concerning the pain. They will conduct a blood test or liver biopsy by inserting a small needle into the liver to collect a sample. 

Some lifestyle changes, like eating healthy and exercising, help treat liver pain. Foods such as refined carbohydrates (white flour, white bread, white rice), too much sugar, and salt are not good for the liver. Make sure to eat high fiber foods, water, and fruit juices such as carrot or papaya juice. It is also advisable to sit up straight in order to relieve your liver from pressure, which helps ease the pain.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/20/2021
References
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American Liver Foundation: "Liver Cancer."

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Hawaii Pacific Health: "Love Your Liver: Look for These 8 Signs of Organ Damage."

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Michigan Medicine: "Alcoholic Liver Disease."

Stanford Medicine 25: "Shoulder pain and shortness of breath. Shoulder exam is normal. Diagnosis?"

Texas Digestive Disease Consultants: "Liver Damage Symptoms Your Doctor Wants You to Know About."

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