Nutmeg Liver: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatments

by John Staughton (BASc, BFA) last updated -

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Nutmeg liver is the common name for a very serious disease, so understanding of its signs, symptoms, and potential treatment options is very important.

What is Nutmeg Liver?

Nutmeg liver is a condition characterized by the liver taking on the appearance of a speckled nutmeg kernel. This condition is typically caused by some type of venous congestion, resulting in congestion in the liver cells. The dark speckles on the liver represent those congested vessels, while the pale areas around it are the unaffected liver tissue. The formal name for this condition is congestive hepatopathy, although it may be referred to as cardiac cirrhosis if the condition is directly caused by congestive heart failure.

Causes of Nutmeg Liver

As mentioned above, the primary cause of nutmeg liver is congestive heart failure on the right side of the heart. When cardiac lesions are present, the pressure in hepatic veins will increase, because the blood is essentially being blocked from flowing normally through the vena cava. When this blockage occurs, congestion in the liver cannot be avoided, resulting in the many unpleasant side effects and symptoms of this condition.

Signs & Symptoms of Nutmeg Liver

The major symptoms of nutmeg liver include jaundice, gastrointestinal problems, and the vomiting of blood or bile, among others. If your liver isn’t working properly, it will have effects throughout your body, because it cannot appropriately filter out toxins or clean your blood. Your stool will change color and become tan or clay-colored, while your urine will be colored and dyed by excess bile. Tenderness in your torso will occur, and part of your gut may feel distended; this is the liver swelling beyond its normal size.

Diagnosis of Nutmeg Liver

Diagnosing this condition can be done in a number of ways, including a physical examination and various laboratory tests. A physical examination and discussion of symptoms can often be enough to make an educated guess about the underlying problem, but a liver function test can also be conducted to determine if there is a major blockage in that organ system.

Treatment for Nutmeg Liver

When it comes to treating this condition, your best option is to treat the underlying cause, which is right-sided heart failure. If you can treat that congestion and blockage, it will allow blood to pass normally through the liver, reducing inflammation, swelling, and relevant side effects.

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About the Author

John Staughton is a traveling writer, editor, publisher and photographer with English and Integrative Biology degrees from the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana (USA). He co-founded the literary journal, Sheriff Nottingham, and now serves as the Content Director for Stain’d Arts, a non-profit based in Denver, Colorado. On a perpetual journey towards the idea of home, he uses words to educate, inspire, uplift and evolve.

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