The liver is one of the body’s hardest-working organs. Without any breaks, it removes toxins from the bloodstream while managing the body’s nutrients and aiding in digestion. It’s also the heaviest internal organ, taking up a football-sized amount of space underneath your right rib cage.
Where is liver pain felt? This question is more complicated than it appears because the liver has no pain receptors. Instead, damage to its lining or surrounding tissues causes pain that spreads over the abdomen or to unrelated areas of the body, making it difficult to identify the problem. The Liver Foundation estimates that tens of millions of Americans have undiagnosed fatty liver disease.
Where Is Liver Pain Felt?
If the surrounding tissues of the liver become irritated, you may feel liver pain on the right side of your abdomen near your stomach. Many people with cirrhosis — scarring of the liver tissue — describe a dull ache in this area or generalized throbbing abdominal pain.
Where Does Liver Pain Hurt in Your Back?
The throbbing ache from inflammation around the liver can feel like back pain as well. Liver pain originates in the bottom of your rib cage on the right side.
What Is Referred Liver Pain?
Nerves can carry pain signals from one damaged area of the body to an unrelated area, especially if the damaged area lacks any pain receptors of its own. This type of pain is called referred pain. Referred liver pain typically affects the right shoulder.
What Pain Can Be Mistaken for Liver Pain?
It’s easy to mistake liver pain and other types of pain since the liver is close to many other organs. Only a doctor can tell you if your pain is actually from the liver or another body part, however.
The stomach is directly to the left of your liver and is also located inside your rib cage. Unlike the liver, the stomach has pain receptors. Liver disease can cause nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite similar to diseases of the stomach.
The gallbladder is a small organ attached to the liver. As the liver creates bile that digests fat, the gallbladder stores bile and releases it into the digestive tract as needed. The gallbladder is located on the underside of the liver, between that organ and the intestines, making the question of where liver pain is felt more complex.
Gallbladders can develop painful stones, similar to kidney stones. The organ can also become infected and cause pain. Gallbladder pain may feel as if it’s further inside the ribcage than liver pain and closer to the center of the abdomen. It may also radiate to the upper back or chest or cause referred pain in the right shoulder, just like liver pain.
The most significant difference between typical gallbladder and liver pain is that pain from the liver is dull and constant, while gallbladder pain is sharp and sudden. It’s not possible to know if abdominal pain is from the liver or attached gallbladder without a doctor’s diagnosis, though.
The kidneys are two organs located underneath the liver on either side of the spine. When infected or blocked with stones, they can cause intense back and flank pain that originates deep within the body.
Kidneys are part of the urinary system, so serious kidney problems often cause blood in urine and painful urination. Liver disease can cause dark-colored urine as well, so it’s important to see a doctor to differentiate between kidney and liver problems.
Referred pain in the right shoulder can feel like musculoskeletal pain, such as a pulled muscle or torn ligament. One major difference between referred liver pain and a shoulder injury is that the injury will hurt more if you move the shoulder joint, while referred pain remains the same no matter how the shoulder moves. Right shoulder pain alone is unlikely to be liver pain, as it almost always appears in tandem with other symptoms of liver disease.
How Do You Know If You’re Feeling Liver Pain?
Pain originating from the liver is often more generalized than other types of abdominal pain, so it’s impossible to pin down without seeing a doctor. Wondering where liver pain is felt instead of seeking treatment can make the problem worse.
If the issue is your liver, there are many different possible causes, such as:
- Excessive drinking
- Viral hepatitis (Hepatitis A, B and C)
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Injury or internal bleeding
- Budd-Chiari syndrome
The liver is an essential organ, and unlike kidneys, the human body doesn’t come with a spare. Liver disease is the 9th leading cause of death in America according to the CDC. Any damage to your liver can be fatal without proper treatment, so it’s important to get regular checkups and be aware of common risk factors for liver disease, such as alcohol consumption and obesity.
What Are Warning Signs That Your Liver May Be Damaged?
Many early signs of liver disease are easy to confuse with other illnesses. Nausea, fatigue, unexplained weight gain or weight loss, and general abdominal pain are all symptoms, but they are also signs that your body is unwell in general.
The specific symptoms that point to the liver typically appear in the late stages of liver disease, when the organ begins to fail. These include:
- A yellow tone to the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Swollen abdomen
- Swollen ankles or lower legs
- Pale or unusual stool color
Liver failure progresses quickly, so see a doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms with upper right side abdominal pain.
A Doctor Can Help Identify Where Liver Pain Is Felt
Liver damage is usually chronic, building up over time rather than occurring suddenly. Early stages of liver damage are reversible with proper intervention. Rare diseases such as liver cancer also have a higher survival rate with early detection.
Don’t ignore abdominal pain symptoms, as they can be early warning signs of serious conditions. If unexplained symptoms are making you wonder where liver pain is felt, it’s time to see a doctor. At Arizona Premier Surgery, we diagnose and treat liver disease, gallbladder disease and other serious health conditions using the latest technology. Contact us to set up an appointment.