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Bruised Liver

What is a bruised liver?

A bruised liver is a type of injury to the liver. It is also called a contusion of the liver.

The liver is the largest organ inside your belly. It helps you stay healthy in a number of ways. For example, it helps your body get rid of harmful substances and it makes substances your body needs.

What is the cause?

Car accidents are the most common cause of a liver contusion. For example, the liver can be bruised if your body smashes into the steering wheel. It can also happen when you are playing sports (for example, if you are hit in the belly) or if you fall onto your bicycle handlebars or are in a fight.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms depend on how the liver was injured and how severe the injury is. A common symptom is pain and tenderness when the area around the liver is touched—that is, the upper right section of the belly, including under the right ribs.

How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and how you were injured. Your provider will examine you and look for injuries, such as broken ribs and signs of internal bleeding. He or she will also check to see if the liver is tender or swollen.

An important part of the diagnosis is making sure that the injury is just a bruise and not something more dangerous, such as a tear in the liver or active bleeding from the liver into the abdomen, which can be life-threatening. Blood tests will look for signs of bleeding. Blood tests are also a way to see how well the liver is working.

You may have an ultrasound or CT scan. Scans can show swelling of the liver, tears, and collections of blood (hematomas) in the liver. A CT scan can also show other injuries around the liver, such as broken ribs, which can tear the liver or cause bleeding.

How is it treated?

If the physical exam and tests show no evidence of any injuries other than a bruise, the treatment is rest and follow-up with your healthcare provider. You may have blood tests at least daily for a few days to check for blood loss. The CT scan may also be repeated to make sure that there are no new signs of liver injury or internal bleeding.

How long do the effects last?

Compared with other liver injuries, a contusion tends to be mild and not life threatening. Recovery depends on how severe the injury was. For example, if the injury resulted from a simple fall onto a bicycle handle at low speed, it may only be a matter of days until the soreness is gone and liver tests are back to normal. If the injury happened in a bad motor vehicle accident, it may take days to weeks before liver tests are normal.

How can I take care of myself?

  • If your liver blood tests are not normal, your provider may recommend not taking any medicines that might hurt the liver, including nonprescription drugs such as acetaminophen.
  • Your provider may tell you to avoid drinking alcohol until your liver is back to normal.
  • You may need to limit your activity--possibly even stay in bed--to avoid reinjury of your liver. For example, if you have broken ribs and are too active while the ribs are healing, the ribs could become displaced and reinjure the liver.
  • Follow your healthcare provider's instructions. Ask your provider:
    • How and when you will hear your test results
    • How long it will take to recover
    • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
    • How to take care of yourself at home
    • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them
  • Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent a bruised liver?

Because bruises of the liver tend to happen in accidents, there is no easy way to prevent them. Since many of these injuries are from motor vehicle accidents, wearing your seat belt gives you the best protection.

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