The liver is capable of healing and regenerating. But how long does the process take, and what are the signs of a healthier liver?
A range of health conditions can impair your liver function, making you feel unwell and tired. This can have a huge impact on your quality of life. However, the good news is that the liver can heal itself. Here are the signs to look for that suggest your living is healing.
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One of the liver’s primary functions is to remove toxins from the blood. Without this process, they accumulate in your body.
Toxins can impair brain function, leading to a condition known as hepatic encephalopathy (HE). Hepatic means liver-related, and encephalopathy refers to a disease that disrupts brain function. So hepatic encephalopathy is a liver disease that disrupts brain function. It causes symptoms such as brain fog and unclear thinking.¹
HE can occur suddenly or gradually over time. People with chronic or severe liver disease are more prone to developing HE. The following are common liver diseases and conditions:
Hepatitis A, B, or C
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Bile duct disorders
Some medicines can contribute to HE in cases where the liver can’t metabolize them and they are not excreted from the body. The drugs may remain in the body and impair brain function as a result.
A good sign that your liver is on the path to recovery is clearer thinking. A healthier liver regains the ability to remove toxins and unwanted compounds from the blood.
Fatigue is a common symptom of many diseases, including liver disease. You might feel like your energy levels are low or that you’re “running on empty.” Even when you rest, you might still feel tired.²
If you’re experiencing fatigue due to liver disease, you may notice that your energy levels increase as your liver function improves. Therefore, increased energy could be a sign that your liver health is improving.
During liver disease flare-ups, you may notice that your appetite decreases. Researchers still don’t fully understand how liver disease causes decreased appetite, but there are a few possibilities.³
Changes in your body’s energy use can lead to appetite changes. A buildup of fluid in the abdominal cavity can make you feel full after eating only a small amount of food. You may notice taste changes and find some flavors unpleasant, making it more difficult to eat.
As your appetite returns or increases, this could indicate that your liver health is improving.
Yellowing of the skin and the sclera (the whites of the eyes) is called jaundice. It’s a common sign of liver disease.
The cause of jaundice is excess amounts of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a compound found in red blood cells that helps transport oxygen.
The liver breaks down red blood cells at the end of their life cycle. However, when the liver can’t do this, bilirubin builds up in the blood, making your skin and eyes look yellow.
When your skin and eyes start to return to their normal color, this indicates that your liver is recovering. It has regained its ability to break down old blood cells, preventing high amounts of bilirubin from accumulating in your blood.⁴
Pain is very common with liver disease. Some people with liver disease use pain relievers regularly to keep their pain at a manageable level.⁵
Your pain should decrease when your liver starts to recover. So, feeling less pain and using fewer painkillers than usual may indicate that your liver is recovering.
Liver disease can affect your stools.
The brown color in stool is caused by bile. Bile is produced by the liver. If your liver isn’t functioning well and isn’t producing enough bile, or if your bile ducts are blocked, you’ll have pale or clay-colored stools.⁶
Your body needs bile to digest fatty foods. It won’t digest fat very well if there isn’t enough bile. In this case, the fat will remain in your stools. Fatty stools float in the toilet and have a foul smell.⁷
Stabilized, firmer stools with a brown color indicate that your liver is producing more bile. This is another sign that your liver health is improving.
A set of blood tests known as liver function tests are used to check your liver’s overall health. These tests measure the levels of various enzymes, proteins, and other substances produced by the liver.⁸
Liver function tests usually include checking your levels of the following substances:
Albumin — a protein produced by the liver
Total protein — the total concentration of protein in the blood
Liver enzymes —alkaline phosphatase (ALP), alanine transaminase (ATP), aspartate aminotransferase (AST), and gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT); these enzymes get released into the bloodstream when the liver is damaged
Bilirubin — a compound released from red blood cells when the liver does not break them down
Prothrombin time — a test that measures your blood clotting rate
These tests can provide an overview of how well your liver is functioning.
If your results fall outside of the normal range, then this indicates liver impairment. Results in the normal range indicate that your liver is functioning well.
Blood tests provide important information about your liver’s health. Your liver may be healing when your blood tests start to normalize.
Detoxification refers to the removal of toxic substances from the body. The term is often used in the context of alcohol and the liver. The liver detoxifies alcohol by converting it into other substances that your body can excrete. Certain harmful compounds are formed during this process that damage the liver.
Chronic alcohol consumption leads to changes in the liver’s function. Once you stop drinking, it will take some time for your liver to “detox” from alcohol and recover. The following signs may indicate your liver is detoxing from alcohol:⁹
Nausea and vomiting
Increased heart rate and blood pressure
The healing process depends on many factors, including the type of liver disease you have, the severity of your disease, and whether you are using medical treatments.
Some improvements may be seen within as little as one week. However, significant improvement may take several months if your liver damage is severe.¹⁰
Ask your doctor for guidance on how long it will take for your liver to heal. They will give you an idea of what to expect in your specific case and guide you through the process.
The liver can regenerate and heal. You may even notice changes in your overall health and well-being when this process starts. Blood tests can help confirm your liver is healing if you are unsure.
You should notice your general health and well-being improving when your liver starts to heal. For example, you may notice clearer thinking, more energy, improved appetite, and less pain.
The time required for your liver to heal depends on the severity of your liver disease, the type of disease you have, and whether you are undergoing treatment.
Although some improvement may occur within one week, significant improvement can take several months in cases of severe liver damage. Your liver may never fully recover if it is significantly scarred.
The liver has the incredible ability to regenerate. In many cases, your liver can get better over time. However, medical treatment may be needed.
Speak to your doctor to find out what you can expect and get support in helping your liver to recover. In people with cirrhosis (severe scarring within the liver), it may be impossible for the liver to fully recover from the damage.
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Liver function tests (2022)