Concerned about the health of your liver? People with a damaged liver or who are suffering from liver disease may experience a number of symptoms. They may also experience no signs or symptoms at all. If you suspect you might be experiencing problems with your liver, or are showing any of the signs and symptoms below, you should contact your doctor for more information. 


Types of Symptoms


People who do show symptoms of liver damage and disease may experience a range of different signs. Jaundice, bleeding varices, ascites and encephalopathy are some of the symptoms you may experience: 


1. Jaundice (jawn-dis)


Jaundice is yellowing of the eyes. It happens when the liver can’t filter your blood normally. If you get jaundiced suddenly, or your jaundice worsens, your liver function could be deteriorating (getting worse) or you may have an infection. Contact your doctor or specialist immediately and make an appointment to have it checked out.


2. Bleeding varices (vara-sees)


Bleeding varices is bleeding that happens in your oesophagus (food pipe) or stomach. A build-up of pressure from your liver makes the blood vessels swell and burst. Bleeding varices is very serious and may be life threatening. The symptoms of bleeding varices are vomiting blood or having black, tarry, sticky stools (poo). If you have either of these symptoms you need URGENT MEDICAL HELP.


3. Ascites (uh-sigh-teez)


Ascites is a build-up of fluid in your abdomen (stomach area). It is due to high pressure in the liver. Your abdomen will become very large. It is uncomfortable to eat (because you will always feel full) and breathing may become hard, especially when you are lying down. Some patients who have ascites might have malnutrition (when your body doesn’t getting all the nutrients it needs). The ascites fluid can become infected and this is very serious. If you have ascites and have symptoms of sudden stomach pain and fever you need URGENT MEDICAL HELP.


4. Encephalopathy  (en-cef-a-lop-a-thy)


Encephalopathy is due to a build-up of toxins in your brain. When the liver can’t filter toxins, the toxins stay in your blood and are carried to the brain. Symptoms of early encephalopathy are changes in mood, concentration, memory and sleeping patterns, as well as flapping hands. You may also have problems with handwriting, doing maths and crankiness. Talk to us if you have these symptoms and contact the Liver Clinic immediately. Symptoms of later encephalopathy are confusion, not acting like yourself, and being very sleepy for no reason. If it is severe it can make you deeply unconscious. This is very serious. If you, or somebody close to you, notice that you have symptoms of later encephalopathy you need to call for URGENT MEDICAL HELP.


Liver Damage and Disease Symptoms by Stage 


People showing signs of liver problems will experience symptoms based upon the stage of their condition. 


Liver damage


Liver cells can be inflamed and damaged in lots of ways. The main causes are: hepatitis viruses passed from person to person; what we eat and drink (eg. alcohol, some herbal medicines, fatty food) and whether we are overweight; autoimmune disorders; genetic disorders.

As liver cells try to heal themselves, they can become damaged. Over time, this can lead to liver fibrosis and other liver problems.




Liver fibrosis happens when healthy liver cells are damaged and become inflamed (swollen). Cells that are very inflamed die and are replaced by scar tissue (called fibrosis).

There aren’t usually any symptoms of fibrosis. You might have symptoms of whatever is causing your fibrosis though (see What causes liver damage and disease for more info on the causes of liver damage). If left untreated, fibrosis can develop into liver cirrhosis.




When scar tissue builds up too much over time, it is called cirrhosis. There are two stages of liver cirrhosis: compensated and decompensated.

Compensated cirrhosis has only mild or no symptoms. At this point, some of your liver still works well enough to compensate (make up) for the parts of the liver that have scarring.

If liver damage gets worse, you will get the next stage of liver damage, called decompensated cirrhosis. This is advanced liver cirrhosis and is dangerous. By now you may be feeling tired, have poor appetite and be losing weight.

Below are the four symptoms of decompensated liver cirrhosis. If you experience any of these symptoms, you need to get help from a doctor, specialist or hospital immediately.


Contact the Hepatitis Infoline or talk to your doctor for more information 


Have a question about liver health or symptoms related to liver damage and disease? Contact the free Hepatitis Infoline or download one of our free online resources now. 

If you feel you are showing any of the symptoms of liver damage or disease, please talk to your doctor. Our resources don’t replace advice from a medical professional.

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