Signs of a bad liver graphic

Your liver health might be a concern if you or a loved one has suffered with alcoholism for long periods of time. But what are the first signs of a bad liver?

The liver is a vital organ responsible for numerous crucial functions in the body, including detoxification, metabolism, and the production of essential proteins. When the liver begins to experience problems or damage, it often displays warning signs that should not be ignored.

Recognising these early indicators of a bad liver is crucial for maintaining good liver health and seeking timely medical intervention when necessary. In this article, we will explore the first signs and symptoms that may signal a bad liver, shedding light on the importance of early detection and proactive health management.

Key Signs of a Bad Liver

A bad liver does not always show early signs and symptoms of liver disease. However, if signs of liver disease present themselves, identifying these key signs early on can be crucial in addressing liver problems and managing the condition.

Early signs of a bad liver may include:
• Jaundice that is visible in the skin and eyes
• Abdominal pain or swelling
• Itchy skin
• Dark or unusual urine
• Swelling in the legs and ankles
• Itchy skin
• Chronic fatigue and tiredness
• Nausea and vomiting
• Change in appetite, typically decreased
• Bruise easily

The first signs of a bad liver can vary in severity and may not necessarily indicate a severe liver condition. However, if you or someone you know experiences persistent or multiple symptoms from above, it’s essential to consult a healthcare professional.

Early detection and management of liver issues can significantly improve outcomes and overall health, so speak to a doctor today if you are showing signs of liver damage.

Common Causes of Liver Problems

Liver problems can arise from a variety of factors and health conditions, ranging from lifestyle choices to underlying medical issues. Understanding the common causes of liver problems is essential for prevention and early intervention of the condition. Here are some of the most prevalent causes of a bad liver or liver disease:

Alcohol Abuse

Excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholic liver diseases, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, and cirrhosis. The liver processes alcohol and its byproducts, which can damage liver cells over time and lead to liver problems.

Alcohol abuse can cause long term liver problems, so seeking addiction treatment or cutting back alcohol is the best way to prevent alcohol-related liver diseases.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD is a condition where excess fat accumulates in the liver, often due to obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. It is becoming increasingly common and can progress to more severe conditions if left untreated.


Viral infections, such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C, can cause inflammation and damage to the liver. Chronic hepatitis infections can lead to cirrhosis and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Medications and Toxins

Some medications, over-the-counter drugs, and exposure to toxins (including certain chemicals and industrial solvents) can harm the liver. This is referred to as drug-induced liver injury.

Autoimmune Liver Diseases

Conditions like autoimmune hepatitis, primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) occur when the immune system mistakenly attacks and damages the liver.

Genetic Disorders

Inherited genetic disorders like hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, and alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can disrupt normal liver function and lead to liver problems.


Chronic liver diseases, when left untreated, can progress to cirrhosis, a condition where liver tissue becomes scarred and non-functional.

Liver Cancer

Primary liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) can develop in individuals with underlying liver diseases, especially cirrhosis.

It’s important to note that many liver problems are preventable or manageable through lifestyle modifications and early medical intervention. Regular check-ups, maintaining a healthy weight, limiting alcohol consumption, and practicing safe behaviours can help protect the liver and reduce the risk of liver-related health issues.

Take a note of the first signs of a bad liver that you are noticing and speak to a medical professional.

Symptoms of Alcohol Related Liver Disease

Alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD) is a term used to describe a range of liver conditions and diseases that are caused by excessive alcohol consumption over an extended period of time, and is something that many people with alcohol addictions experience.

ARLD includes several stages of liver damage, including fatty liver, alcoholic hepatitis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. Some symptoms and different stages of alcohol related liver disease includes:

Fatty Liver (Alcoholic Steatosis): Excessive alcohol intake can lead to the accumulation of fat in liver cells, a condition known as alcoholic fatty liver or steatosis. This condition is usually reversible if alcohol consumption is stopped or significantly reduced so seeking treatment for alcohol addiction as soon as possible is key if you are showing the first signs of a bad liver.

The key danger of a fatty liver is that many individuals do not experience noticeable symptoms, so treatment is not accessed quickly.

Alcoholic Hepatitis: With continued heavy alcohol use, some individuals may progress to alcoholic hepatitis, which is characterised by inflammation and damage to the liver. Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis can include jaundice, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and liver enlargement.

Alcoholic hepatitis can be severe and life-threatening and requires medical attention. Abstinence from alcohol is crucial to prevent further liver damage.

Fibrosis: In cases where alcohol abuse persists, the liver may develop fibrosis which is the formation of scar tissue in response to ongoing inflammation and liver injury. Fibrosis represents the early stage of liver scarring and is an indicator of progressive liver damage.

If alcohol consumption continues, fibrosis can progress to cirrhosis which is a very serious liver problem.

Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis is the advanced and irreversible stage of ARLD where extensive scarring has replaced healthy liver tissue. Cirrhosis disrupts the liver’s normal functions which can potentially lead to liver failure.

Symptoms of cirrhosis can include fatigue, weakness, easy bruising, swelling in the abdomen and legs (ascites and edema), and a heightened risk of bleeding and infections. A liver transplant may be necessary in severe cases of cirrhosis, but recovering from alcohol addiction is the first step of the recovery process.

How to Avoid a Bad Liver

Not every person who consumes alcohol excessively will develop alcohol related liver disease or a bad liver, as genetics, overall health, and the duration and quantity of alcohol consumption all play a role in a person’s risk of a bad liver.

If you are still wondering what the first signs of a bad liver are, learn more about alcohol related liver disease (ARLD) on the British Liver Trust’s page.
If you or someone you know is suffering from alcohol addiction, consider alcohol rehab for treatment to avoid potential health problems such as the above liver disease conditions.

We can help if you are struggling with alcohol abuse – phone us on +44 (0) 800 012 6006 or fill out our contact form to learn more about our alcohol rehab programmes.