Your liver is one of the hardest-working organs in your body. It helps you digest food, convert it to energy, and store that energy for future use. It also plays an important role in filtering toxic substances out of your blood.

When your liver isn’t functioning properly due to liver disease, it can have potentially serious health effects. This is partly why it’s important to know how to recognize symptoms of a potential liver issue. Plus, most liver diseases are easier to manage with early detection.

Keep in mind that liver disease is an umbrella term for a number of conditions that affect your liver. It’s not a condition itself.

Read on to learn about symptoms of common liver diseases and how to recognize them.

Symptoms of liver disease may vary depending on the underlying cause.

But there are a few common signs that often point to some kind of liver issue.

These include:

  • yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • dark urine
  • pale, bloody, or black (tarlike) stool
  • swollen ankles, legs, or abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • decrease in appetite
  • persistent fatigue
  • skin that feels itchy
  • bruising more easily than usual

Viral hepatitis is inflammation of your liver that a virus causes. Hepatitis is contagious, but it doesn’t always cause symptoms. This means it can be transmitted and contracted without knowing it.

Hepatitis spreads through contact with contaminated food, water, or bodily fluids, such as blood and semen.

All hepatitis infections affect your liver. It makes it swell and keeps it from working properly. These infections might be acute (lasting six months or less) or chronic (lasting more than six months).

The hepatitis virus can live in the body for years without causing symptoms. At first, you may notice flu-like symptoms. Over time, you may also notice:

  • fatigue, decreased energy, or general weakness
  • aching muscles and joints
  • abdominal pain
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • decreased appetite
  • dark urine and pale stool
  • jaundice

Getting vaccinated can help reduce your risk for hepatitis.

If you live in the United States, you can get vaccinated for hepatitis types A and B. A vaccine for type E is currently only available in China.

A healthy liver typically contains a small amount of fat. Fatty liver disease happens when there’s excess fat in the liver.

A liver with too much fat will swell and become inflamed. This inflammation can lead to cirrhosis (scarring), which can permanently damage the liver.

There are two types of fatty liver disease:

Alcoholic fatty liver disease usually doesn’t cause symptoms in its early stages. However, some people experience pain in the right side of their abdomen.

As it progresses, it can also cause:

  • fever
  • nausea and vomiting
  • jaundice

Many people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease also have few or no symptoms in its earlier stages. But over time it may cause:

  • general weakness and fatigue
  • unexplained weight loss
  • decreased appetite
  • jaundice
  • itchy skin
  • swollen legs and abdomen

Genetics can play a part in the development of some liver conditions.

Common genetic conditions that can lead to liver problems include:

  • hereditary hemochromatosis, a condition that causes your body to store excess iron in your organs
  • Wilson’s disease, a condition that causes your liver to store copper instead of releasing it so it can leave your body
  • alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a condition where your body can’t make enough alpha-1 antitrypsin, which is mostly produced in your liver

Symptoms vary depending on the condition but may include:

  • fatigue and low energy
  • joint pain
  • abdominal pain
  • decreased appetite
  • leg and abdominal swelling
  • jaundice

An autoimmune disease is a condition that involves your immune system attacking healthy tissue in your body. Those that cause your immune system to attack your liver can cause inflammation and scarring.

Autoimmune liver conditions include:

Both PBC and PSC often develop slowly, but early symptoms sometimes include fatigue and itchy skin.

Eventually, they can also cause:

  • pain in your right abdomen
  • jaundice
  • leg an abdominal swelling
  • enlarged liver, spleen, or abdomen
  • unexplained weight loss

PSC can also cause chills, fever, and night sweats.

Unlike PBC and PSC, autoimmune hepatitis can develop suddenly. Some people notice mild flu-like symptoms.

Eventually, it can cause symptoms similar to those of viral hepatitis, including:

  • jaundice
  • decreased energy, fatigue
  • abdominal and joint pain
  • itchy skin
  • dark urine and pale stool
  • nausea
  • decreased appetite

Liver cancer refers to any cancer that starts in your liver.

Hepatocellular carcinoma, or hepatocellular cancer (HCC), is the most common type of liver cancer. While liver cancer refers to any cancer originating in your liver, it’s often used to refer to HCC.

Liver cancer often develops slowly. You may not notice many symptoms during the early stages.

It’s important to see your healthcare provider as soon as you notice any symptoms, because earlier treatment may mean a better outlook.

Common signs of liver cancer include:

  • decreased appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • itchy skin
  • jaundice
  • abdominal pain and swelling
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • easy bruising

Keep in mind that many of these symptoms overlap with those of other, less serious conditions. Still, it’s a good idea to follow up with your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms.

Cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, happens when your liver is damaged by inflammation or swelling. Liver diseases, especially alcoholic fatty liver disease and hepatitis, can eventually cause cirrhosis, but it takes some time for cirrhosis to develop.

Like many liver diseases, cirrhosis typically doesn’t cause symptoms at first. But as it progresses it can cause:

  • fatigue and weakness
  • decreased appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • very itchy skin
  • nausea
  • leg and abdominal pain and swelling
  • jaundice
  • easy bruising or bleeding

Liver failure can be chronic or acute. It usually occurs after cirrhosis. It typically happens in the final stages of liver disease, after the liver is too damaged to continue functioning. In most cases it’s a gradual process.

Symptoms that can point to early liver failure include:

  • appetite loss
  • fatigue
  • nausea
  • diarrhea

Later stages of liver failure may cause:

  • fatigue
  • confusion
  • coma

Overdoses, particularly acetaminophen overdoses, can cause acute liver failure. This refers to liver failure that happens over a period of days or weeks, rather than months or years.

Symptoms of acute liver failure include:

  • pain or swelling in your right abdomen
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • confusion
  • jaundice
  • feeling sleepy, disoriented, or generally unwell

It’s not as common as chronic liver failure, but acute liver failure is very serious.

If you have signs of acute liver failure, seek medical attention right away. Sudden liver failure can lead to fluid buildup in the brain, excessive bleeding, and kidney failure.

Left untreated, liver diseases can have lasting effects on your health.

If you think you have a liver condition, it’s best to follow up with your healthcare provider as soon as possible. In most cases, early treatment is key for a smooth recovery.