What Are the Causes of Hepatomegaly?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 13 December 2018
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Hepatomegaly happens when the liver begins to expand to an unmanageable size in the body, creating symptoms ranging from mild abdominal pain and jaundiced skin to vomiting and a visible lump in the gut. This is a condition that could arise for a variety of reasons like alcohol abuse, hepatitis A, B or C, and certain types of cancer. Other lesser-known causes of hepatomegaly include several infectious diseases like Kala Azar, HIV/AIDS or schistosomiasis as well as several other hereditary diseases and conditions like congestive heart failure, Wilson's disease or Hurler's syndrome.

Since so many conditions could be causes of hepatomegaly, the treatment largely deals with identifying and doing battle with that underlying cause. Doctors will begin evaluating a patient by analyzing the patient's symptoms. If tests reveal an enlarged liver without jaundiced, or yellowed skin, for instance, doctors are more likely to suspect some form of metabolic disease or a malignant tumor. With jaundice, that same doctor might begin to narrow in on an infection like hepatitis or mononucleosis, alcohol abuse leading to cirrhosis, accidental ingestion of a toxic agent, congestive heart failure, or even anemia.


A handful of cancers are causes of hepatomegaly like liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, lymphoma and leukemia. Cancer could also start to form in one organ and eventually reach the liver, causing it to swell. Also possible are common emergency room situations, from heart failure to pericarditis, which causes the tissue around the heart and the liver itself to swell. Other conditions known to swell the liver include benign cysts that could be obstructing organ function, inside the liver or potentially elsewhere.

Radiology testing can often quickly identify any abnormal growths that may be the causes of hepatomegaly. Blood tests can target many of the human diseases that could develop into hepatomegaly. Some of the more common of these are Gaucher's and Wilson's diseases as well as a fatty liver disease that has two variations — one caused by alcohol poisoning and another that can develop even without alcohol abuse. Alcohol fatty liver disease is, of course, more likely to develop in a person's later years, while the non-alcohol version can strike all ages.

A condition that is closely related to hepatomegaly is called hepatosplenomegaly. This involves the liver and spleen enlarging concurrently — conditions known as hepatomegaly and splenomegaly, respectively. What causes hepatosplenomegaly is not nearly as difficult to diagnose as weeding through the many causes of hepatomegaly. This more specific condition is most often related to malnutrition and tumorous growths.


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