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Hepatomegaly, or enlarged liver, is a condition in which (as the name suggests) the liver is swollen or enlarged. Hepatomegaly can be symptomatic of many different liver conditions, some of which are quite serious. Heptomagely is often one of the first overt symptoms of liver disease, which can develop for a long time without any overt symptoms at all, so that it has to be detected through blood tests and medical imaging. When a symptom such as heptomegaly arises, the disease has progressed to a stage where serious damage can be happening.


There are various causes -- that is to say, various underlying liver diseases -- that can cause heptomegaly. Some of these diseases include fatty liver, hepatitis (infectious or alcoholic), cancer of the liver, fibrosis of the liver, and cirrhosis of the liver. Actually, heptomegaly can be a symptom of just about any condition that causes impaired liver function, although it isn't always present.

But the next question is
what causes the liver disease, which itself can arise from multiple different sources. Liver disease can be a result of alcohol abuse (a very common cause), obesity, diabetes, complications from drug use (both medicinal and recreational), hereditary causes, and viral infections -- among other things. Treatment of heptomegaly is a matter of treating the liver disease underlying it, which in turn is a matter of treating the cause of the condition.

Continued below....

Risk Factors

The factors that make a person at greater risk for heptomegaly are the same factors that increase risk of liver disease, since the latter gives rise to the former.

At the top of the list of things that increase risk of liver disease is
heavy consumption of alcoholic beverages. Alcohol in moderation is not normally a great risk for liver damage, but in large amounts (three or more drinks per day consistently), alcohol is the single most common cause of liver disease. Upon diagnosing liver disease, doctors will next determine whether alcohol is the cause of the problem or whether another cause must be sought.

Of other risk factors, the most significant is
obesity, which also increases the risk of many other health problems. Type II diabetes (which is often associated with obesity) is another thing likely to increase the occurrence of liver disease. Drugs, both prescription medications and recreational drugs, can cause liver damage as well. Common culprits include medications to reduce cholesterol levels and certain antibiotics. Hereditary conditions can also cause liver damage, as can infectious diseases such as infectious hepatitis.


Strictly speaking, it's inaccurate to speak of "symptoms" of heptomegaly because heptomegaly is itself a symptom; however, there are other symptoms which frequently accompany the condition and may be detected more easily. These include pain (usually a dull chronic pain) in the chest on the right-hand side -- where the liver is located in the body. Generalized body pain may also occur as well as digestive disorders such as loss of appetite, nausea, and vomiting, and visible swelling of the abdomen. If symptoms like these occur, a medical imaging scan using methods such as ultrasound can detect the liver's swollen condition, which is a clear indicator of liver disease.

In Children

Heptomegaly is normally a disease of adults, but it can arise in children for various causes. Alcohol abuse is rare in children for obvious reasons, so the most common cause of liver disease is not present most of the time. However, hereditary conditions, viral infections, and sometimes obesity can cause liver disease in children as in adults, and sometimes this can lead to heptomegaly. Two childhood illnesses, Alagille's syndrome and Reye's syndrome, can produce heptomegaly. Some of these conditions are quite serious (Reye's syndrome can be fatal).


The prognosis for a patient with heptomegaly depends on the liver condition causing it and how advanced it is. Many liver diseases can be arrested or reversed with lifestyle changes or antiviral treatments. In some very serious cases, such as advanced cirrhosis of the liver or cancer of the liver, survival becomes an issue and more aggressive treatments may be necessary.


There is
no treatment for heptomegaly as such. Instead, doctors will seek to treat the underlying liver disease. For most liver diseases, the preferred treatment consists of lifestyle changes. If the liver disease is caused by alcohol abuse, the obvious prescription is to stop drinking. If obesity is the problem, doctors will recommend gradual weight loss. Treatment of causes such as diabetes or viral infections will often alleviate the liver disease as well.

For advanced, life-threatening conditions of the liver, it may become necessary to perform a liver transplant. Survival after a liver transplant becomes measured in terms of the chance to live one year or five years and so on. The best treatment for advanced liver disease is to prevent it by avoiding the factors that increase risk.


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