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What is liver enlargement?

Liver enlargement or hepatomegaly is a condition that typicallyaffects middle aged people. Various medical conditions can causeliver enlargement, and in turn cause damage and hamper its normaloperation and functions.

The liver

The liver is located below the diaphragm, that is, beneath the lungs,on the right side, opposite to the stomach. It is the largest grandularorgan in the body, has four lobes and is of dark red or brown color.It is entrusted with some of the most important metabolic functionsand is regarded as main chemical plant of the body. It performs,among other tasks, detoxification, protein synthesis, storage ofglycogen, hormone production, and metabolism of fats and cholesterol.It also secretes bile, a digestive juice which enables digestion offats. Of all internal organs, only the liver can regenerate, that isto rebuild its damaged or lost tissue.

Still, some diseases can cause permanent liver damage and cause itto become enlarged. Enlargement of the liver is not a medical problemper se, but it indicates that there is some other problem with theliver at hand.

Causes of liver enlargement

The first thing that comes to mind when we speak of an enlarged liveris alcohol abuse. It causes liver cirrhosis, alcoholic hepatitis andfatty liver, which may in turn cause enlargement of the liver. Viralhepatitis causes inflammation of the liver tissues, which thenincrease in size.Fatty liver disease causes accumulation of fats inthe liver. Risk factors for this disease include obesity, diabetes,and abnormally high cholesterol level. Congestive heart failure isalso associated with liver enlargement. Leukemia causesoverproduction of abnormal blood cells. These typically accumulate inthe liver and spleen and enlarge them. Liver cancer causes quickproliferation of cancer cells and leads to liver enlargement. Someother diseases can also cause liver enlargement.


There are almost no symptoms (eventually vague feelings of fullness inthe abdomen or liver tenderness) unless the liver has enlargedconsiderably, in which case it becomes painful to the touch. Jaundiceand impairment of liver functions may be caused by severe liverenlargement.


Prior to treatment, one must obtain an exact diagnosis, in orderto determine the exact cause of liver enlargement. This is done bytests such as abdominal X-ray, CT scan of the abdomen, ultrasound andsimilar. Depending on the disease that is causing the problem, onecan expect treatment by medication, surgery, chemotherapy or radiation. One should also control levels of cholesterol and blood sugar in the body, keep diabetes in check, exercise regularly, and restrain from alcohol.

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