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What Are the Causes of Hepatomegaly?

Dan Harkins
Dan Harkins

Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body, creating symptoms ranging from mild abdominal pain and jaundiced skin to vomiting and a visible lump in the gut. This is a condition that could arise for a variety of reasons like alcohol abuse, hepatitis A, B or C, and certain types of cancer. Other lesser-known causes of hepatomegaly include several infectious diseases like Kala Azar, HIV/AIDS or schistosomiasis as well as several other hereditary diseases and conditions like congestive heart failure, Wilson's disease or Hurler's syndrome.

Since so many conditions could be causes of hepatomegaly, the treatment largely deals with identifying and doing battle with that underlying cause. Doctors will begin evaluating a patient by analyzing the patient's symptoms. If tests reveal an enlarged liver without jaundiced, or yellowed skin, for instance, doctors are more likely to suspect some form of metabolic disease or a malignant tumor. With jaundice, that same doctor might begin to narrow in on an infection like hepatitis or mononucleosis, alcohol abuse leading to cirrhosis, accidental ingestion of a toxic agent, congestive heart failure, or even anemia.

Alcohol abuse may be the cause of hepatomegaly.
Alcohol abuse may be the cause of hepatomegaly.

A handful of cancers are causes of hepatomegaly like liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. Cancer could also start to form in one organ and eventually reach the liver, causing it to swell. Also possible are common emergency room situations, from heart failure to pericarditis, which causes the tissue around the heart and the liver itself to swell. Other conditions known to swell the liver include benign cysts that could be obstructing organ function, inside the liver or potentially elsewhere.

Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body.
Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body.

Radiology testing can often quickly identify any abnormal growths that may be the causes of hepatomegaly. Blood tests can target many of the human diseases that could develop into hepatomegaly. Some of the more common of these are Gaucher's and Wilson's diseases as well as a fatty liver disease that has two variations — one caused by alcohol poisoning and another that can develop even without alcohol abuse. Alcohol fatty liver disease is, of course, more likely to develop in a person's later years, while the non-alcohol version can strike all ages.

An ultrasound can be used to detect some liver conditions.
An ultrasound can be used to detect some liver conditions.

A condition that is closely related to hepatomegaly is called hepatosplenomegaly. This involves the liver and spleen enlarging concurrently — conditions known as hepatomegaly and splenomegaly, respectively. What causes hepatosplenomegaly is not nearly as difficult to diagnose as weeding through the many causes of hepatomegaly. This more specific condition is most often related to malnutrition and tumorous growths.

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    • Alcohol abuse may be the cause of hepatomegaly.
      By: carla9
      Alcohol abuse may be the cause of hepatomegaly.
    • Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body.
      By: snapgalleria
      Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body.
    • An ultrasound can be used to detect some liver conditions.
      By: acherst
      An ultrasound can be used to detect some liver conditions.
    • Drinking large amounts of alcohol can, over time, lead to liver disease.
      By: olly
      Drinking large amounts of alcohol can, over time, lead to liver disease.
    • Hepatomegaly may cause a visible lump in the gut.
      By: kmiragaya
      Hepatomegaly may cause a visible lump in the gut.
    • There are two variations of fatty liver disease that can develop into hepatomegaly.
      By: joshya
      There are two variations of fatty liver disease that can develop into hepatomegaly.
    • Hepatosplenomegaly, a condition closely related to hepatomegaly, occurs when the liver and spleen enlarge concurrently.
      By: pankajstock123
      Hepatosplenomegaly, a condition closely related to hepatomegaly, occurs when the liver and spleen enlarge concurrently.