Signs & Symptoms of Impaired Liver Function

Updated April 17, 2017

The liver plays a vital role in the body because it filters non-water-soluble toxins out of the blood. It also creates blood clotting proteins, and it stores plenty of glucose (sugar) to be used for energy later. There are several diseases and conditions that affect liver function. Several signs and symptoms may be experienced by a person with impaired liver function. Some are specific, while others may be confused with other conditions.

Abdominal Pain

Abdominal pain is a common symptom associated with impaired liver function. This is because the diseases and conditions that cause impaired liver function may also cause pain as the liver is inflamed (hepatitis) or any of its ducts are blocked. In the case of an infection, the infection may not be localised to the liver, causing irritation and pain of other organs nearby.


When red blood cells are destroyed, the liver is in charge of recycling the leftover red blood cell parts and chemicals. One such chemical, bilirubin, is converted into a water-soluble form in the liver so that the bilirubin can be excreted. When the ducts of the liver are blocked, or the liver is not able to process bilirubin, the bilirubin builds up in the body, giving people with this condition a yellow tinge to their skin. This is known as jaundice.

Digestive Problems

The liver receives nutrients absorbed in the intestines through several veins that go from the intestines to the liver. The liver then sends the nutrients to the rest of the body through an artery. If these blood vessels are blocked or inflamed in any way, then the blood pressure is backed up into the intestines and other digestive organs. This leads to varices (enlarged veins) in the oesophagus and along the digestive tract.


If the liver is unable to process toxins in the body, these toxins may build up and cause general malaise, a feeling of sickness. Such toxins may be ingested, like alcohol and some medications. The toxins may also be made in the body as byproducts of body functions, like bilirubin. If allowed to build up, these toxins may also cause brain damage and toxicity of other organs in the body.

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About the Author

Rene Najera has been writing about health-related issues for over five years through different media. He holds a Master of Public Health degree from the George Washington University and conducts infectious disease surveillance at a state health department. He has also been a lab professional for over 14 years.