Your liver is a large, wedge-shaped organ about the size of a football. It’s located under the ribs on the right side of the body and performs a variety of important functions for life. Without a properly functioning liver, you won’t live long. Some of the most important jobs this organ performs include cleaning toxins out of the body, metabolizing energy from food, and making bile to digest food.
The liver is a remarkable internal organ and is the only one capable of regenerating itself. However, it’s still susceptible to problems and can cause life-altering issues when it isn’t functioning optimally. One of the most common liver-related questions is, “Can liver problems cause back pain?” Here’s the answer to that question and more information about this remarkable organ.
How Do You Know If You Are Having Liver Back Pain?
Many different conditions can cause back pain, so how can you know if the pain you’re experiencing is from your liver or something else? Though it isn’t always possible to tell without receiving an examination from a doctor, here are some indications you’re experiencing back pain from liver problems:
- You experience a stabbing, throbbing, or dull pain in your upper right back or abdomen.
- You have swelling in your legs or ankles.
- Your skin is unusually and unexplainably itchy.
- Your urine is dark in color.
- You have a yellowing of the whites of your eyes and skin.
If your back pain is accompanied by any of these other symptoms, there’s a good chance you’re experiencing liver pain in your back.
How Can Liver Problems Cause Back Pain?
There are many potential causes of liver pain. Some are lifestyle-based, while others may occur due to certain health conditions or diseases. These are some of the more common conditions that can affect the liver and lead to liver back pain:
- Liver cancer
- Hepatitis (liver inflammation)
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Reye’s syndrome
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Liver pain can also stem from cysts, abscesses, and injury or trauma to the organ.
What Are the 4 Warning Signs of a Damaged Liver?
Liver problems can cause back pain, but is liver back pain always something you should be worried about? The answer isn’t so cut and dry. Generally, if your liver is causing pain, it’s an indication that something’s wrong and should be addressed. You should schedule an appointment with your doctor if you believe you’re experiencing back pain from liver issues.
Besides the symptoms mentioned earlier, here are four additional warning signs that you need immediate medical attention for your liver. These symptoms indicate your liver is highly damaged and your life may be in danger:
- Extreme pain in the upper right abdomen
- Confusion and mental disorientation
- Swelling in the abdomen
If you experience any of these symptoms, you’ll need someone to take you to the emergency room immediately. You could be experiencing liver failure.
How Does a Doctor Diagnose Liver Back Pain?
To determine whether your back pain stems from liver problems or something else, your doctor may do the following:
- Physically and visually examine the abdomen for inflammation and swelling
- Perform liver function tests
- Check for signs of jaundice in the skin and eyes
- Order a liver biopsy
- Order a CT scan, ultrasound or MRI
These tests can help reveal whether your liver is diseased, damaged or malfunctioning. If it is, the pain you’re experiencing in your back is likely coming from your liver.
What Treatments Can Help With Back Pain From Liver Problems?
Even if your liver back pain isn’t immediately life-threatening, you should still take it seriously. Without intervention, it could progress to eventual liver failure. Back pain with liver disease can be treated in a variety of ways. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, liver-specific medications, or liver surgery. In extreme cases, a liver transplant may be necessary to alleviate symptoms. There are a number of possible treatments and recommendations your doctor may give you based on your specific case.
If your liver back pain is the result of excessive alcohol consumption or other dietary issues, your doctor may recommend the following:
- Avoiding alcohol
- Exercising regularly
- Drinking more water
- Avoiding fatty foods and consuming more protein
- Monitoring and managing your cholesterol
If these lifestyle changes don’t relieve your symptoms, it may be time to move on to other treatments. Avoid taking over-the-counter pain medications like ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Though they can temporarily bring relief from liver back pain, they can cause more harm to your liver in the long run and make things worse.
Depending on why you’re experiencing liver and back pain problems, you may need to take liver-specific medications. These may include:
- Lactulose to decrease ammonia levels
- Antiviral medications to treat chronic liver infections (often used for hepatitis B)
- Rifaximin to prevent ammonia from building up in the liver
- Ledipasvir for hepatitis C
In extreme cases, you may need to undergo liver dialysis. This is a process that helps purify the blood and take some of the strain off your liver.
Depending on the underlying cause of your liver symptoms, liver surgery may be recommended. A surgeon removes the affected portion of the liver. This helps reduce or eliminate symptoms without affecting the function of the organ.
Laparoscopic liver removal is a minimally invasive surgery that has a quicker recovery time and shorter hospital stay than open liver surgery. Ask about this less-invasive option if your doctor recommends liver surgery.
Schedule Surgery for Liver Pain in Your Back
Back pain with liver disease can be life-altering. It can make it difficult or impossible to maintain your quality of life and keep up with professional and personal responsibilities and relationships.
Now that you know the answer to the question, “Can liver problems cause back pain?” it’s time to consider your treatment options. At Arizona Premier Surgery, we offer minimally invasive laparoscopic liver removal surgery to remove liver cancer or portions of the liver as needed to restore proper function. If you’re tired of living with liver back pain, contact us to learn more about your surgical treatment options.