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Hepatomegaly is having an enlarged liver. Your liver is the largest internal organ. It helps your body:
The liver is also the only internal organ that can grow back after surgery, which makes live liver donation possible. If you donate a portion of your liver, it will regenerate to its original size. The transplanted portion will also grow.
If you have an enlarged liver, it could mean that you have:
Many of the symptoms that cause hepatomegaly can impair your liver’s ability function and help your body.
While hepatomegaly is always a cause for medical evaluation, not all of the underlying conditions are considered medical emergencies. Make an appointment with your doctor if you have signs or symptoms of an enlarged liver.
An enlarged liver on its own may not have any symptoms. But if a medical condition is causing your enlarged liver, you may experience serious symptoms such as:
Any of these symptoms require evaluation by your doctor.
Call 911 or seek emergency medical attention immediately if you have:
These symptoms are considered medical emergencies.
Hepatomegaly is often a sign that the tissue within the liver is not functioning properly. Taking certain medications, such as amiodarone and statins, may also cause liver injury.
Common causes include:
Congestive heart failure can also cause blood to back up into the hepatic veins. These are the veins that help drain blood from the liver. When they back up, the liver will become congested and grow larger. This is called congestive hepatomegaly.
Less common causes of hepatomegaly include:
Some infections and certain medical conditions can cause growths to form within your liver. Growths in the liver can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Typically, any growth will cause your liver to increase in size.
Some people are genetically at greater risk for hepatomegaly. You may be at a greater risk if you or your family has a history of:
Lifestyle factors can also increase a person’s risk for hepatomegaly. These lifestyle factors include:
Talk to your doctor for more information if you have concerns about your risks for hepatomegaly. Always tell your doctor about any over-the-counter or herbal supplements you’re taking.
Your liver is a triangular organ. It’s located below your diaphragm, under the lower edge of your right ribcage. You may have an enlarged liver if your doctor can feel it during a physical exam. A typical liver can’t be felt with your fingers.
The size and weight of your liver increases naturally with age. For children, the liver is typically measured by its span — through its thickest part from top to bottom. Adult livers are measured by length.
A 2003 study used ultrasound to estimate the average diameter of an adult liver. The data below was gathered from 2080 people ranging in age from 18–88. In this study only 11 percent had a liver larger than 16 centimeters.
The average liver size varies by age and can be:
Body shape, weight, and sex can also affect the size of your liver. Your doctor will take these into account when examining your liver for possible signs of hepatomegaly.
To find out why you have hepatomegaly, your doctor may order a variety of tests, such as:
If a doctor suspects a more serious condition, they may recommend a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy is a surgical test where your doctor takes a small sample of your liver for microscopic examination.
Your treatment options depend upon the underlying disorders that cause your liver enlargement. Some of the treatments your doctor will recommend may include:
Once your doctor confirms hepatomegaly, they’ll usually recommend lifestyle changes for your liver health. These include:
The outlook for recovery and reduction of symptoms depends on the underlying cause of your hepatomegaly. You may have a better outcome if your doctor discovers hepatomegaly in its early stages. Medications are available to reduce the symptoms of conditions like congestive heart failure and liver failure.
At times the symptoms of hepatomegaly don’t appear until the later stages. Severe liver damage can lead to lifelong complications.
There are many lifestyle factors that can cause hepatomegaly. Managing these factors can decrease your risk for an enlarged liver.
Here are some things you can do:
The likelihood of feeling an enlarged liver is unlikely. But because damage to your liver can cause an accumulation of fluid within your abdomen, you may notice that your stomach sticks out more than usual.
You could also experience other symptoms like jaundice, loss of appetite, and stomach pain. Make an appointment with the doctor if you think you may have signs or symptoms of hepatomegaly.
Your liver is a vital organ. The best way to manage your liver’s health is to follow your doctor’s instructions regarding healthy practices. This could include exercising more, drinking less alcohol, and eating a balanced diet.
Written by: Verneda Lights and Rachel Nall
Medically reviewed on: Aug 22, 2016: Judith Marcin, MD
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