Liver cysts are fluid-filled sacs that can develop on the liver. Most liver cysts are noncancerous and do not usually grow large enough to cause symptoms. These cysts do not require treatment unless symptoms develop and rarely affect the liver’s functioning.
This article is a comprehensive guide to liver cysts, their symptoms, treatment, and effects on the liver.
What are liver cysts?
Any cyst is like a small sac or capsule packed with fluid, cells or other material – like a balloon.
Cysts usually develop above or just beneath the skin. The most common cyst sites are the back of the neck and wrists. However, these cysts can also show up in organs such as breast tissue, ovaries, or other places inside the body.
As mentioned above, liver cysts form on or inside the liver and are common. However, most people with a liver cyst are unaware. And most liver cysts are benign, meaning they are not cancerous.
Some people develop a single cyst or a simple cyst and experience no symptoms with the growth of that cyst. There are also other people with numerous cystic growths on the liver, which may be a condition called polycystic liver disease (PLD). PLD causes multiple cysts, yet the liver may continue to function well with this disease. The patient should know that developing this disease may not shorten their life expectancy.
What are the types of cystic liver disease?
While a majority of liver cysts are benign or noncancerous and don’t usually grow to cause symptoms, a very small percentage of liver cysts may become cancerous. Although, two types of cystic liver disease may require surgery or other kinds of treatment. They are as follows:
- Hydatid disease (Echinococcal or hydatid cysts)
Hydatid disease is one caused due to parasites that pass from dogs and sheep to humans, generally through the water systems. These parasites then develop into cysts on a person’s liver and other body organs.
If left untreated, hydatid disease causes fever, jaundice or eosinophilia, or an exceptionally high number of white blood cells in the body. Healthcare experts treat these cysts with medication, including chemotherapy to kill the parasite and surgery to remove the cysts.
- Polycystic liver disease (PLD)
Polycystic liver disease is a rare inherited disorder and affects about 1 to 10 people in 1,00,000. A person suffering from PLD develops clusters of benign or simple cysts on the liver. These cysts may seem like clusters of giant grapes.
A study shows that only about 20% of people with PLD have noticeable symptoms, and others don’t observe signs until adulthood. With time, an affected person’s liver gets larger, causing swollen or distended bellies and discomfort. Healthcare experts treat PLD with the help of medication and surgery.
Does liver cyst cause stomachache?
As discussed above, simple or single liver cysts are fluid-filled cavities present in the liver. Typically, these cysts do not show symptoms and may not require treatment. However, the cysts may grow large to cause pain or discomfort in the upper right part of the stomach.
Doctors can detect most liver cysts with ultrasound or computerized tomography (CT) scans. When needed, treatment includes drainage or removal of the cyst. The actual cause of simple liver cysts is unknown. The cysts may be the outcome of a malformation present at birth. Rarely, liver cysts may be an indication of a serious, underlying condition such as:
- Polycystic liver disease is an inherited disorder
- Echinococcus infection is a parasitic infection
- Liver cancer
What are the symptoms of a liver cyst?
In most cases, people who have benign or cancerous liver cysts never have symptoms. However, people experiencing the symptoms may observe the following:
- Dull pain in the upper right area of the abdomen.
- Bloated or distended abdomen.
- Feeling nauseous.
- Lack of good appetite or feeling full after consuming very little food.
- Feeling short of breath.
- Being able to feel large lumps in the abdomen.
- Jaundice may occur if liver cysts block the bile ducts.
- Fever and acute stomach pain may happen if a cyst ruptures.
When should one seek a doctor?
As soon as a person experiences the above-stated symptoms, they should contact an expert immediately to bar out complications.
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What causes a liver cyst to develop?
Most of these liver cysts are congenital – the cysts are present from birth. Healthcare experts are unsure of the exact causes of congenital liver cysts.
Some people have liver cysts from birth, whereas others develop cysts as adults or much later in life. Despite the presence of cysts at birth, they may go undetected until symptoms arise later during adulthood.
A malformation in the bile ducts causes liver cysts. Although, the exact reason for this malformation is yet to be known. Bile is a fluid produced by the liver that aids in digestion.
How is a liver cyst diagnosed?
In most cases, medical experts discover the presence of liver cysts while performing imaging tests for other health conditions. Imaging tests that show liver cysts include:
- Ultrasound: uses high-frequency soundwaves to create real-time pictures and videos of the internal organs or other tissues.
- CT scan uses a series of X-rays and a computer to create three-dimensional images of soft tissues and bones.
- MRI: a painless test that uses a large magnet, radio waves, and a computer to produce clear images of organs and structures within the body.
Suppose the medical expert spots liver cysts during imaging tests. In that case, they may perform the following:
- Physical examination
- Discuss with the patient about family medical history, travel history and history of chronic liver disease.
- Sero diagnostic tests to help identify specific antibodies in blood samples.
- Contrast-enhanced ultrasound
These tests help doctors to diagnose or rule out conditions such as precancerous or cancerous liver cysts, polycystic liver disease or liver cysts caused by parasites.
What are the treatments for a liver cyst?
If the liver cyst isn’t causing any symptoms, the doctor may not treat it. If the person does show signs, the doctor may choose to drain the fluid from the cyst.
However, in some instances, the person may require surgery to remove a part of the cyst to avoid fluid build-up. This surgery is usually laparoscopic, meaning it requires a few small incisions.
In most cases, the person can be back to normal within two weeks of surgery. After surgery, liver cysts rarely show up again.
No one likes to know about an unexpected health issue, although in this case, it may mean nearly all liver cysts are benign and rarely cause symptoms that could affect the quality of life. Often, healthcare experts choose to monitor cysts rather than perform surgery to remove the cyst. An expert can help get all the information about the condition and how to deal with it.