What Are Signs That Your Liver Is Not Functioning Properly?

Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2022

What is the liver?

The liver is an organ that filters the blood and performs other important functions in the body. Signs that your liver is not functioning properly include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and other symptoms and signs.
The liver is an organ that filters the blood and performs other important functions in the body. Signs that your liver is not functioning properly include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice and other symptoms and signs.

The liver is a reddish-brown, cone-shaped organ found in the upper right portion of your abdominal cavity. A healthy liver typically weighs around three pounds. It’s capable of holding approximately 13% of your body’s blood supply at different times. If you find yourself experiencing liver pain, it could be a sign of a more serious medical condition. 

What is liver function?

The liver performs a variety of essential functions for the body, including: 

  • Regulating amino acids in your blood
  • Balancing glucose levels
  • Turning excess glucose into glycogen for storage
  • Managing blood clotting
  • Removing drugs and other toxins from your system
  • Creating immune factors to fight infection
  • Cleaning bacteria from your bloodstream 
  • Removing excess bilirubin created by red blood cells

A properly functioning liver can heal itself when damaged. If you are experiencing liver pain, you may be dealing with an issue that could permanently harm your liver and put your life at risk. 

12 Signs and symptoms of malfunctioning liver

Some of the warning signs and symptoms of malfunctioning liver are as follows:

  1. There is constant fatigue or uneasiness.
  2. Dull pain in your abdomen is one of the first signs of a potentially serious problem.
  3. Jaundice is the yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes that occurs when your liver fails to remove bilirubin from the body.
  4. Bleeding or easy bruising can occur when the liver fails to produce adequate blood clotting proteins.
  5. Edema (swelling of the legs with fluid) occurs when the liver can’t produce enough albumin, leading to low albumin in the blood.
  6. There is fatigue of unknown cause, but it may be associated with a weakened metabolic function of the liver.
  7. When the liver is malfunctioning, toxins build up in the blood and can travel to the brain, affecting brain function and leading to confusion, disorientation, or forgetfulness.
  8. Because the bilirubin is usually excreted through the kidney, it turns the urine into dark color.
  9. Because the bile production is usually declined or the flow of bile out of the liver is blocked in a malfunctioned liver, the stools usually turn clay-colored.
  10. When toxins build up, they cause digestive distress, leading to nausea and vomiting.
  11. Because the liver plays an important role in the maintenance of the digestive system, a malfunctioned liver can cause a loss of appetite.
  12. The association between sleepiness and a malfunctioning liver is complex, but various mechanisms are thought to be involved.

The following risk factors may increase your chances of ending up with the liver disease.

  • Toxin exposure — Some household chemicals can pass into your bloodstream and harm your liver. Toxins can also come from pesticides used on foods you eat or compounds in your work environment. 
  • Supplements — Various herbs and supplements can end up causing problems for your liver. 
  • Alcohol consumption — Drinking too much alcohol can cause your liver to swell, resulting in scarring and damage that may be permanent. 
  • Other health problems that can lead to potential liver issues include carrying excess weight, diabetes, or high cholesterol levels. You may be more prone to liver problems if there is a family history of liver disease


Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause: See Answer

Causes of liver pain

There are several types of liver disease whose symptoms include liver pain. 


Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver often caused by an infection or injury. Several different viruses can cause viral hepatitis A, B, C, D, and E. Hepatitis B, C, and D can spread through blood contact only, while B and C can also spread through other body fluids. 

You can also contract hepatitis from heavy drinking or consuming something toxic. Some people also end up with autoimmune hepatitis, where the body’s immune system starts attacking their liver. Common symptoms of hepatitis include:


Liver cirrhosis is a medical condition where the liver ends up with scarring and permanent damage. This results in the scar tissue overtaking healthy liver tissue. Because the scar tissue blocks normal blood flow, the liver may no longer be capable of performing routine functions like processing nutrients and producing vital proteins. Ongoing liver cirrhosis can lead to liver failure. 

Liver cancer

Primary liver cancer is a form of cancer that starts in the liver. Several types of liver cancer can produce symptoms like liver pain. 

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) — HCC is a common form of liver cancer found in adults. It can start as a tumor found on the liver that continues to grow. Other forms of HCC may produce small nodules in various places around the liver. This type of liver cancer is often found in people with advanced cirrhosis. 
  • Bile duct cancer — This form of liver cancer starts forming in the cells of the bile ducts found in and outside of the liver. 
  • Angiosarcoma — Angiosarcoma is a rare form of liver cancer that forms in the inside lining of blood and lymph vessels of various organs, including the liver.
  • Hepatoblastoma — Hepatoblastoma is a rare form of liver cancer that can develop in children, often four years and younger. 
  • There is also metastatic liver cancer, which spreads to the liver from cancer initially found elsewhere in the body. 

Diagnosis for liver pain

You should make an appointment with your doctor to determine the source of any persistent liver pain. They will likely perform a full examination. They may also order additional diagnostic tests to get a clearer picture of your current condition, including:

  • Abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Abdominal Ultrasound
  • Elastography
  • Gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) test

Treatments for liver pain

Treatment for liver pain will vary depending on its cause. For example, if excessive drinking causes liver damage that leads to cirrhosis, your doctor will likely recommend that you give up alcohol. Liver pain may also be alleviated by losing weight or proper management of diabetes. If diagnosed with liver cancer, your treatment may consist of chemotherapy, radiation, or surgery to deal with cancerous cells. 

What are the warning signs of liver cancer?

Symptoms are hardly seen in the initial stages. As the tumor size increases, it may cause pain in the right side of the abdomen. Some patients may have worsening symptoms of chronic liver disease or cirrhosis, which often precedes the development of cancer of the liver.

Some of the early warning signs of liver cancer include:

Other common symptoms include:

Tumors in the liver produce hormones that act on other organs, causing:

What is liver cancer

Liver cancer, also known as hepatic cancer, is a type of cancer that starts in the liver. The different types of liver cancer are:

Primary liver cancer: This cancer starts in the liver. Primary liver cancer is of different types:

  • Hepatocellular carcinoma (the common form of liver cancer)
  • Intrahepatic cholangiocarcinoma (bile duct cancer)
  • Angiosarcoma and hemangiosarcoma (cancer that begins in the cell lining of the blood vessels in the liver)
  • Hepatoblastoma (cancer occurring in infants)

Secondary liver cancer (metastatic liver cancer): Cancer that originates in another part of the body and spreads to the liver.

Benign liver tumors: Noncancerous tumors may grow large enough to cause problems, but they do not grow into nearby tissues.

Who is at risk of getting liver cancer?

People associated with the following conditions are at an increased risk of getting liver cancer:

What are the treatment options for liver cancer?

The treatment options depend on the stage and type of liver cancer. The most common treatment options include:

  • Surgery: This option may be useful in removing part of the liver affected by cancer. Complications of surgery include bleeding, infection, or pneumonia.
  • Liver transplant: This involves replacing the cancerous cells with healthy liver cells from a donor. Rejection of the liver transplant is the major complication of this method.
  • Ablation therapy: This procedure involves using heat or laser to destroy the cancerous cells.
  • Embolization: This technique uses a catheter to inject particles or beads into the blood vessels that supply blood to the cancer cells to block them. This kills the cancerous cells.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation of high frequency destroys the cancerous cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses medications to kill cancerous cells.

Liver cancer can be prevented by following the below lifestyle modification:

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Medically Reviewed on 5/12/2022
American Cancer Society: "Treatment of Liver Cancer, by Stage."

American Cancer Society: "What is Liver Cancer?"

Cedars Sinai: "Hepatitis A."

Clinical Liver Disease: "Imaging of Abnormal Liver Function Tests."

Harvard Health: "Fatty liver disease: What it is and what to do about it."

John Hopkins Medicine: "Liver: Anatomy and Functions."

John Hopkins Medicine: "5 Reasons You May Be at Risk for Liver Disease."

National Health Service: "Alcohol-related liver disease."

National Health Service: "Cirrhosis."

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases Health Information Center: "What Is Viral Hepatitis?"