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What Is the Long-Term Effect of Liver Damage?

By S. Reynolds
Updated Feb 18, 2024
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The long-term effect of liver damage may result in liver failure, which is usually treated through organ transplants. Many people do not show any early signs of liver damage because the liver can take decades to deteriorate. Someone who does display symptoms arising from liver damage may have itchy skin, fatigue, dark urine, yellowing skin or eyes, and abdominal fluid retention. Symptoms are unique to each individual, so the effect of liver damage might resemble other diseases.

The liver is a sensitive organ that can become damaged through excessive alcohol consumption, hepatitis, or an acetaminophen overdose. Alcoholism combined with daily acetaminophen use can cause rapid liver deterioration. Other causes include malnutrition, genetic problems, cancer, or poisonous mushroom ingestion. The most common causes of liver damage are hepatitis exposure and long-term alcohol abuse. These two causes can take years to damage the liver.

Some of the effects of liver damage can be treated if the deterioration is not too extensive. The liver is one organ that can regenerate and heal itself over time. Someone who overdoses on acetaminophen can rapidly destroy up to 60 percent of the liver, but the organ will repair itself within 30 days if no other poisons are ingested.

An alcoholic can usually repair his liver even after years of alcohol abuse as long as he abstains from drinking. Alcohol is a poison that affects the liver, but most people can recover from the damage if they do not drink in excess. If too much scar tissue has formed, however, the effect of liver damage can progress into cirrhosis. This is a type of late-stage liver damage that usually requires a liver transplant.

Once cirrhosis has set in, liver failure can occur, as too much scarring on the organ prevents it from repairing itself. Acute failure can occur as rapidly as two days after onset. Most often, however, liver failure is a slow process that takes years. Symptoms of liver failure might include appetite loss, diarrhea, jaundice, swollen stomach, skin bruising, mental confusion, fatigue, or even coma.

Liver failure is one effect of liver damage that usually takes years to occur. It can only be corrected through a healthy liver transplant. If the liver has enough healthy tissue, surgeons might be able to remove the scarred sections and leave the healthy parts to regrow. On the other hand, acute liver failure caused by a reaction to a drug is usually reversible without surgery. Since the liver is an essential organ to the body, if it fails, death follows quickly.

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Discussion Comments
By ZipLine — On Mar 02, 2013

@alisha-- I had liver damage due to drinking. I haven't touched a drink for ten years and my liver damage reversed itself. But when my liver was in bad shape, I remember that it was very tender. I would touch my skin and feel a slight discomfort. I also had the typical beer belly which may or may not be a sign of liver damage.

Some people don't have any symptoms, especially if the liver damage is due to disease rather than alcohol. I think it's a good idea to have a physical once a year or once every two years and check liver health after a certain age.

I'm lucky because I got rid of my bad habit without permanent damage but not everyone is so lucky. The long term effects of liver damage is no fun. I know several people who have cirrhosis from my old Alcoholics Anonymous group. They're undergoing a difficult treatment and one is being considered for a liver transplant.

By discographer — On Mar 01, 2013

Are there symptoms of liver damage we can look out for before cirrhosis occurs?

By stoneMason — On Feb 28, 2013

I'm scared about long-term effects of liver damage. That's why I rarely take pain relievers, only if I really need it.

My dad has fatty liver disease, it's advanced. The doctors have put him on a special diet and he's not allowed to take medications hard the liver, except for ones he's reliant on like high blood pressure medication.

I know that the liver renews itself, but in my dad's case it hasn't. He gets a checkup every six months and there is no improvement. Right now, we're concentrating on preventing future damage. I don't even want to think about what would happen if his liver were to fail.

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