Dealing with Liver Soreness
May 23, 2012 2:18 PM   Subscribe

Possible Liver problems (abdominal soreness/pain). Trying to figure out what it is and how best to deal with it.

So for about a month, I've had minor/low-level soreness right around the liver area (bottom of the right side of ribs). In the old, golden days I would have just gone to a doctor and followed his/her advice. Now I have no insurance and very little money, so when walking in the door costs $200 I'm forced to try to figure out what's going on and how to deal with it myself as best I can, at least until the pain becomes so unbearable I can't function.

At first I thought the pain might have been caused by my trying a supplement knows as Kava, which has been suspected of causing liver issues and even deaths. I was willing to try it because the most recent studies indicated it was fairly safe, and even then did so very moderately, less than half the regular dose.

But it's been at least a month since I had any, and the pain persists. At this point, I'm starting to suspect I may just be dealing with some kind of viral hepatitis. No sex or illicit drugs, but maybe I didn't wash my hands enough at some point?

Obviously if my urine goes brown or my skin goes bright yellow I'll be running to the ER because I'd rather be thousands of dollars in debt than dead. But until that happens, is there anything else I can do, and anything else to keep an eye out for? Any educated guesses on what the nature of this is?
posted by wanderingchord to Health & Fitness (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
That doesn't sound to me particularly like liver trouble. Seems more likely it's digestive annoyances (irritable bowel syndrome gives me a recurring pain there). It could be gallstones, or possibly muscle pain. Upper right quadrant abdominal pain seems like it ought to be your liver, since you know that's where your liver is, but it's more likely to be from something else. Of course, I'm not a doctor and have no qualifications for diagnosing your pain.
posted by artistic verisimilitude at 2:39 PM on May 23, 2012

How are you taking the Kava? Kava can cause liver problems, but usually you are already have a liver issue or its compounded by using other medications of alcohol (IANAD). Try stopping the Kava and seeing if you feel better, would be one way to find out. The liver is amazing at healing itself. And how's your diet?

Otherwise, liver panels aren't expensive as tests go, but the whole visit will probably run you $200.

If your eyes get yellow or you start to get itchy, do seek immediate attention.
posted by Lutoslawski at 2:54 PM on May 23, 2012

IANAD and I'm not making light of the abdominal pain at all, but as someone who has been uninsured/unemployed fora while and have only recently become insured again(within the past couple of weeks) there were times when I thought about what would happen if I got sick, and then I started noticing things more and thinking "hmm...could this be ____"

It sounds ridiculous but at one point I thought I might have a brain tumor or some neurological issue - looking back I think it was just that stress was making me dizzy and out of it.

It is stressful to not have health insurance in this country and to not know what would happen if you get sick.

I don't think trying to "figure out" what it is is a very good idea. If the pain gets anywhere near unbearable then definitely go see a dr or find a free clinic somewhere.

Also, I think if you try to zero in on kava or some other relatively harmless supplement (as long as you have been taking it in a way that would be considered harmless) you will start googling and you can pretty much ALWAYS find something to affirm whatever it is that you google.
posted by fromageball at 3:25 PM on May 23, 2012


But an alcoholic ex-boyfriend of mine used to take milk thistle supplements to promote healthy liver, kidney and gall bladder function. Pretty cheap and you can find them in the grocery store supplement aisle.
posted by stellaluna at 3:46 PM on May 23, 2012

Never diagnosed but also a most likely sufferer of an irritable bowel, I have "sensation" in the exact same area. Not necessarily a pain, but I am always aware of said sensation. I went to the doctor, he didn't make any diagnosis but told me to eat better and take some herbs. The herbs made it worse but the peace of mind that the doctor wasn't concerned was worth more than $200.
posted by Che boludo! at 4:07 PM on May 23, 2012

Is there a free clinic in your area? This sounds like something you should get checked out, if at all possible. Or maybe you can call a public health phone line--they might be able to give you either a go to the doctor talk, or some peace of mind.

(Listen to yourself... "At this point, I'm starting to suspect I may just be dealing with some kind of viral hepatitis"! That's serious. At the least, maybe you could get a hepatitis test as part of a free STD panel at your local Planned Parenthood?)
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:41 PM on May 23, 2012

In addition to mil thistle supplements, you can try removing toxic cleaners and the like from your life to take some of the stress off your liver. Warm salt water baths are another gentle means to start detoxing your system. I did all of those things and more.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 5:56 PM on May 23, 2012

Thanks to everyone for the replies. The general consensus seems to be "That doesn't sound too bad, but keep an eye on it," which I'll definitely do. There is a free clinic in my area, and I may go visit them on the one day a week they are open, six days from now. But in the meantime, I thought I'd look into getting more info.

@Artistic: A good point, and obviously I'm just guessing here.

@Fromageball: ALSO a good point, and I absolutely agree. It's certainly easy to start getting paranoid in this situation, and I do what I can to keep fairly close to reality. But a significant pain that had never been there before did suddenly show up, so I figured it was worth investigating a bit at least.

@Luto: Yeah, that's kind of what I was thinking from what I've read. There are some grim stories, but they always seem to be tied up with a bunch of other things: huuge doses, taking it and immediately doing intense exercise, combinations with alcohol and other shit, etc.

Also, I did come across mentions of Milk Thistle while researching this, and I have been taking one or two a day for a bit now. Not sure if it's anything other than placebo, but at least it can't hurt.

Thanks again for the insight. I'll keep an eye on it, and seek help if any severe symptoms show up.
posted by wanderingchord at 7:17 PM on May 23, 2012

I can only say that going through 3 bottles of high quality milk thistle finally ended the pain in the same place that I believe was caused by the hormones caused by the stress of being widowed combined with the normal hormones of a thirty year old woman - they were somehow overtaxing my liver (I had no other known causes for liver pain, I was not a drinker at the time.) And also my doctor said the pain could not be my liver and I know it was my liver!
Your experience may vary. IANAD

To prevent a recurrance, I don't do Kava, and avoid any kind of toxins I can. I take Ibuprofen but never on an empty stomach and never with alcohol.
posted by cda at 8:07 PM on May 23, 2012

Upper right quadrant is massively more likely to be your gallbladder than your liver, especially if you've got several of the four Fs. Not that I like the phrasing, but it's easy to remember that way: fat, female, fair, and (over) forty. It's more likely to be that if it feels worse after eating fatty foods.

If this seems like a real possibility, start checking in now with various hospitals in your area to find out their charity care policies. Generally you get a bit of warning before it gets bad enough that it needs surgical intervention, but if you hit the point where the pain is getting in the way of ordinary life activities, definitely see a doctor no matter what. My SO put it off for ages and her quality of life went up by leaps and bounds once she'd had it out.
posted by gracedissolved at 3:12 AM on May 24, 2012

I am a hepatology nurse, but not your hepatology nurse. I urge you to reconsider taking kava, which has actually led led to severe liver injury, including liver failure and liver transplantation. This is a case of removing a known potential toxin and should be a first step. This alone may resolve your symptoms, but continuing to take it will certainly confuse interpreting your symptoms

If you are uninsured, please seek out a free or low-cost provider who can do a couple of simple tests as a first-line differential, including a liver panel (one tube of blood) and abdominal ultrasound to look for gallstones. Gallstones are rarely an emergency, but the pain can be episodic, generally increases after a fatty meal, and can be excruciating if a stone obstructs or partially obstructs the duct. If you have stones, an ultrasound will see them.

Blood tests for viral hepatitis markers are very inexpensive, and since hepatitis B and C are reportable in most jurisdictions may even be free. Hep A is the oral-fecal infection, B is sexually and parenterally (sharing blood or contaminated needles, etc) transmitted, and hep C is rarely sexually transmitted, mostly parenteral transmission. In fact, for couples where one partner is infected and the other is not, no precautions are recommended since sexual transmission is so rare. Hep A usually does not require specific treatment, B and C require at least follow-up by a trained professional.
(You may have been vaccinated for hep B if you are younger than about 25, which would remove that virus as a possible culprit).

Please stop taking kava as a first, simple step. You only have one liver, and you don't want to inadvertently damage it!
posted by citygirl at 11:45 AM on May 24, 2012 [2 favorites]

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