What’s in this article

  • What is a swollen liver?
  • What causes a swollen liver?
  • Signs and symptoms
  • Treatment and prevention


What is a swollen liver?
A swollen liver, normally referred to as an enlarged liver or in medical terms hepatomegaly, is when the liver swells to beyond its normal size. According to the Mayo Clinic, an adult liver normally weighs between 2.6 and 3.3 pounds (1.2 to 1.5 kg) and measures an average of 5.9 inches (15 cm) in width. Usually an enlarged liver will not occur on its own, often there are symptoms that accompany it that point to an underlying condition.


What causes a swollen liver?
A swollen liver is usually the result of a liver disease such as cirrhosis or fatty liver disease, however, other health conditions can also cause the liver to swell. These include bacteria, viruses, parasites, some heart conditions, genetic diseases and some types of leukemia and lymphoma. According to the Mayo Clinic the most common causes of liver enlargement are:

  • Alcoholic liver diseases such as alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Liver cancer, or cancer that has spread to the liver

The most common causes of an enlarged liver as listed above, are all very serious health conditions and should not be ignored.


Signs and symptoms
An enlarged liver will usually be accompanied by symptoms that link to an underlying disease, these may include any of the following:

  • jaundice
  • muscle aches and fatigue
  • itching
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • abdominal pain, mass or increased size
  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • swelling of the feet and legs
  • easy bruising

Seek emergency medical help straight away if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • severe abdominal pain
  • fever accompanied by jaundice
  • bloody or coffee ground vomit
  • shortness of breath
  • black, tarry stools or bright red blood in stools

It is important to make an appointment with your doctor if you think you may be suffering from any of the symptoms listed above, or if you are worried about your liver health.


Treatment and Prevention
An enlarged liver is a cause for concern, however, not all of the causes are considered medical emergencies. If you think you may have an enlarged liver or display any of the signs or symptoms then ensure you make an appointment to see your doctor. Appropriate action can be taken by your doctor and they can advise you on what to do next. The best way to prevent the development of a swollen liver is to live a healthy lifestyle. Diet and exercise are important along with quitting smoking and cutting out alcohol.


Find out more about the basics of liver health with Dr. Tarek Hassanein, M.D.