What Is Hepatomegaly?
Hepatomegaly is an enlarged liver, which means it’s swollen beyond its usual size.
Your liver has a lot of important jobs. It helps clean your blood by getting rid of harmful chemicals that your body makes. It makes a liquid called bile, which helps you break down fat from food. And it stores sugar, called glucose, which gives you a quick energy boost when you need it.
A swollen liver usually is a symptom of another health condition, such as hepatitis. You have a lot of treatment choices, but you first need to find the cause of the problem.
Most of the time, if you have a slightly enlarged liver, you won’t notice any symptoms. If it’s severely swollen, you may have:
- A feeling of fullness
- Discomfort in your belly
Depending on the cause of your enlarged liver, you may notice symptoms like:
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Fatigue and weakness
- Weight loss
Your liver might be enlarged because of one of these things:
Inflammation or fatty liver. This could be from:
- An infection (such as hepatitis B or hepatitis C)
- Some medications or alcohol
- Autoimmune disease (when your body’s immune system attacks healthy tissue)
- Metabolic syndrome (a group of risk factors for heart disease that includes high blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol levels; and belly fat)
- Genetic disorders that cause fat, protein, or other substances to build up
Unusual growths. These may be due to:
- Tumors that start in or spread to the liver
A problem with blood flow. This may be due to conditions such as:
- Congestive heart failure, a condition in which your heart doesn’t pump blood the way it should
- Hepatic vein thrombosis, a blockage of veins in your liver
- Veno-occlusive disease, a blockage in the small veins in your liver
Hepatomegaly Risk Factors
You might be more likely to have a swollen liver if you:
- Drink lots of alcohol
- Have an infection caused by a bacteria, parasite, or virus
- Take more than the recommended amount of vitamins, supplements, or medications
- Take herbal supplements like black cohosh, ma huang, and valerian
- Are overweight or eat an unhealthy diet
Your doctor will do a physical exam to see if your liver is larger than it should be. They may order some blood tests to help spot the cause.
You’ll probably also have imaging tests such as:
- CT scan, a powerful X-ray
- MRI, which uses strong magnets and radio waves
- Ultrasound, which uses sound waves
Your doctor may do an ERCP, a procedure that checks for problems in the ducts (tubes) that carry bile. An MRCP, a special type of MRI, also helps spot that kind of trouble. And they may want to take a liver biopsy (a small sample of cells) to look for possible causes.
The treatment for an enlarged liver depends on what’s causing it. If you have a lot of fat in your liver or drink too much alcohol, these lifestyle changes may help:
- Lose weight
- Cut back on how much you drink
- Eat a healthy diet
- Get more physical activity
If a disease is causing your swollen liver, you might get medication or other types of treatments.
Your outlook depends on what’s causing your liver to swell. Without treatment, some conditions can cause long-term damage.