Liver Pain – Location, Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

The liver is the biggest organ inside the human body. It is situated on the right side of the torso, just under the ribs and diaphragm. The latter separates the liver from the abdomen and chest.

Liver performs a number of important functions such as detoxification of the body, secretion of hormones, conversion of glucose deposits into glycogen, removal of RBCs, control of blood sugar levels, elimination of carcinogens and toxins, and plasma protein synthesis, etc. Such heavy workload can result in excessive stress on the liver as well as cause varied liver diseases, which is then experienced as liver pain or discomfort. The medical term for liver pain is hepatalgia.

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What does liver pain feel like?

The location of liver can pose many problems in effective detection of liver pain. Due to its location, liver pain is often misdiagnosed as back pain, or abdominal pain, or kidney pain.The presence of pain or discomfort in the upper right quadrant, on the right side of the abdominal cavity, just below the ribs can be a sign of liver pain. The precise area of liver pain may vary in different patients as it may occur along with pain or discomfort in other organs. Liver pain typically occurs along with abdominal and back pain. Patients may experience sharp or dull pain in addition to pain in the back.


Liver pain arising due to liver conditions may be described as a mild discomfort or a dull ache in the right abdominal area. It may also be felt as cramping or heaviness below the rib cage in the upper right abdominal cavity. Severe liver diseases are most likely to result in stabbing, sharp liver pain.

Some of the common signs and symptoms that may accompany liver pain are listed below:

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  • Back pain: Most instances of liver pain occur along with back pain or pain in the shoulder, particularly on the right side.
  • Gastrointestinal problems: Presence of liver conditions can cause varied gastrointestinal abnormalities like bloating, pain in abdomen, lack of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea, etc.
  • Lethargy/Exhaustion: It is one of the typical signs of liver disorders. The intensity of fatigue tends to differ as per the underlying cause and its seriousness.
  • Changes in skin: Itchiness, rashes, brown patches or spots may appear on the skin. Some patients may suffer from yellowish skin discoloration.
  • Body odor: Putrid body odor, increased perspiration, and bad breath are also common in patients suffering from liver diseases associated liver pain.
  • Ocular anomalies: Itchiness and inflammation of the eyes is widespread in people with liver disorders. Patients may also experience development of dark circles.
  • Itchy palms: Some patients may experience itching, redness, swelling, and inflammation of the palms and soles.
  • Other symptoms: Individuals suffering from liver pain may also elicit pain when coughing or inhaling, pale feces, breathing problems, headaches, urine discoloration, swelling of the testes, pain in the joints, easy bruising, swelling of the ankles, and inexplicable loss of weight.
  • Serious symptoms: Patients with severe symptoms of liver pain must immediately consult a doctor to avoid fatal health complications. High fever, rapid heartbeat, vomiting blood, hallucinations, delirium, sharp liver pain, tarry and dark stools, severe ocular and skin discoloration, and swelling in the abdominal region are some of the serious symptoms that may accompany liver pain.

Causes of liver pain

Liver pain is usually caused due to an underlying liver disease, as listed below:

  • Hepatitis:This liver disease is characterized by liver inflammation which arises due to infections by hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E;alcoholism or heavy drinking for a prolonged period of time leading to irreversible damage and swelling of liver tissues; presence of varied underlying autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, Graves’ disease, lupus, etc.; and ingestion of toxic foods, poisonous herbs or chemicals, and/or drug abuse.
  • Cirrhosis: It is the last stage of serious liver diseases and is characterized by formation of dead or scarred tissue nodules in the liver. Occurrence of dead tissues in the liver can result in liver malfunction and its eventual failure. It is one of the major causes of fatalities in the elderly.
  • Fatty liver: A set of conditions characterized by deposition of fats in liver cells are together known as fatty liver disease. Such buildup of fats occur via steatosis and mostly result in liver enlargement as well as death of liver tissues.Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by alcoholism, while non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may arise due to malnutrition, resistance to insulin, obesity, infections, glycogen storage disorders, toxin ingestion, use of certain medications, and IBS, etc.
  • Liver cancer: Cancer of the liver is usually diagnosed during the last stages. It is another cause of liver pain. Hepatocellular carcinoma is the most common type of primary liver cancer, while secondary liver cancers can develop due to metastasis of cancer from other organs.
  • Liver cysts: They are anomalous fluid-filled sacs that form in the liver. Its causes are not known.


  • Treatment of liver pain is aimed at finding out the underlying cause and treating that liver disease.
  • Liver pain treatment usually involves dietary and lifestyle changes and the use of prescription and OTC medications.
  • Liver failure is treated via a liver transplant.
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