Having a loved one diagnosed with liver disease can be a challenging and emotional journey for both the patient and their family. As an experienced with years of experience in , I understand the importance of providing compassionate and informative support during this grim time. In this article, we will explore what to expect over the course of liver disease, the changes that may occur in your loved one, and how to provide the best care from onset until the end of life.

What is Liver Disease?

The liver plays a crucial role in filtering toxins, producing bile, and processing nutrients in the body. Liver disease can result from various causes, such as hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty liver disease, or liver cancer. As liver disease progresses, it can lead to significant health challenges, and it's essential to be prepared for the journey ahead.

Early Stages of Liver Disease

In the early stages of liver disease, your loved one may not exhibit noticeable symptoms. Regular medical check-ups are essential to monitor the liver's function and detect any changes early on. It's crucial to:

  • Encourage your loved one to attend all medical appointments
  • Follow the prescribed treatment plan and medications
  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine

Changes and Symptoms as Liver Disease Progresses

As liver disease advances, your loved one may start experiencing various symptoms and changes in their overall health. These may include:

  1. Fatigue and Weakness: The liver helps to break down food and turn it into energy. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do this job well. This means that your loved one may not have enough energy to do the things they used to do, such as playing, working, or studying. They may feel very tired and weak and need to rest more often.
  2. Jaundice: The liver also helps to get rid of a waste product called bilirubin, which is made when red blood cells break down. When the liver is damaged, it cannot remove bilirubin from the blood. This causes the bilirubin to build up in the body and make the skin and eyes look yellow. This is called jaundice. Jaundice can also make the urine dark and the stool pale.
  3. Fluid Retention: The liver also helps to regulate the amount of fluid in the body. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do this job well. This means that fluid may leak out of the blood vessels and collect in different parts of the body. This can cause swelling in the legs, ankles, or abdomen. This is called fluid retention or edema. Fluid retention can also make it harder to breathe and increase the risk of infection.
  4. Change in Mental Alertness: The liver also helps to filter out toxins and harmful substances from the blood. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do this job well. This means that some of these substances may reach the brain and affect its function. This can cause confusion or difficulty concentrating. This is called hepatic encephalopathy. Hepatic encephalopathy can also cause mood changes, memory loss, or even coma.
  5. Digestive Issues: The liver also helps to produce bile, which is a fluid that helps to digest fats and . When the liver is damaged, it cannot produce enough bile or release it into the intestine. This means that your loved one may have trouble digesting food and absorbing nutrients. This can cause loss of appetite, , and vomiting. This can also lead to weight loss and malnutrition.
  6. Easy Bruising and Bleeding: The liver also helps to produce clotting factors, which are substances that help the blood to clot and stop bleeding. When the liver is damaged, it cannot produce enough clotting factors or activate them properly. This means that your loved one may bruise or bleed more easily than normal. This can happen even with minor injuries or cuts. This can also cause bleeding in the stomach, intestines, or esophagus. This is called variceal bleeding.
  7. Itchy Skin: The liver also helps to regulate the level of bile salts, which are chemicals that help to dissolve fats and cholesterol. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do this job well. This means that bile salts may accumulate in the skin and cause irritation. This can make the skin feel itchy and uncomfortable. This is called pruritus.
  8. Sleep Disturbances: The liver also helps to regulate the sleep-wake cycle, which is the pattern of sleeping and waking up. When the liver is damaged, it cannot do this job well. This means that your loved one may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep. They may also have changes in their sleep patterns, such as sleeping more during the day and less at night. This can affect their mood and energy level.

Providing Compassionate Care

During this challenging journey, it's essential to provide compassionate care and support to your loved one. Here are some tips to help you along the way:

  1. Open Communication: It is important to talk openly with your loved one about how they feel, what they are afraid of, and what they want. They may have a lot of emotions, such as sadness, anger, or guilt. They may also have questions, such as why this is happening, what will happen next, or what they can do. You can show them that you care by listening with empathy, which means trying to understand their feelings and point of view. You can also share your own feelings, fears, and wishes with them. This can help you both feel closer and more supported.
  2. Medication Management: Your loved one may need to take different medications to help with their symptoms and slow down the liver damage. Some of these medications may have , such as , itching, or confusion. You can help your loved one manage their medications by following the doctor's instructions, keeping track of the doses and times, and watching for any changes or problems. You can also remind your loved one to take their medications and help them if they have trouble swallowing or remembering. If you have any questions or concerns about the medications, you can ask the doctor or nurse.
  3. Comfort Measures: Your loved one may have symptoms that make them uncomfortable, such as pain, swelling, or itching. You can offer comfort measures to help them feel better and relax. Some examples of comfort measures are gentle massage, soft music, or aromatherapy. Gentle massage can help ease pain and tension in the muscles. Soft music can help calm the mind and mood. Aromatherapy can help soothe the senses and reduce stress. You can ask your loved one what they like and prefer and try different things to see what works best for them.
  4. Nutrition: Your loved one may have trouble eating and drinking because of their liver condition. They may lose their appetite, feel nauseous, or vomit. They may also have dietary restrictions, such as low salt, low fat, or low protein. You can help your loved one with their nutrition by preparing nutritious and easy-to-digest meals and snacks. You can also make sure they drink enough water and fluids to stay hydrated. You can ask the doctor or nurse for advice on what foods and drinks are good for your loved one, and how much they should have. You can also encourage your loved one to eat and drink, but do not force them if they are not hungry or thirsty.
  5. Emotional Support: Your loved one may need emotional support during this grim time. They may feel scared, lonely, or hopeless. They may also worry about you and other family members. You can be present emotionally and reassure your loved one that you are there for them throughout their journey. You can also express your love and appreciation for them and remind them of the good memories and moments you have shared. You can also help your loved one cope with their emotions by suggesting activities that they enjoy, such as reading, watching a movie, or playing a game. You can also help them find meaning and purpose in their life, such as by talking about their values, beliefs, or goals.
  6. : You may also need some support and care for yourself as a caregiver. You may feel tired, stressed, or overwhelmed by the demands and challenges of caring for your loved one. You may also neglect your own health and well-being. You can seek or support from hospice professionals to give yourself a break when needed. Respite care is when someone else takes care of your loved one for a short time, so you can rest, relax, or do something for yourself. Hospice professionals are people who specialize in caring for people with serious illnesses and their families. They can provide medical, emotional, and spiritual care and support. You can ask the doctor or nurse for more information about respite care and , and how to access them.

Understanding End-of-Life Care

Sometimes, liver disease can get worse and make the person extremely sick. The doctors may try different treatments to help the person feel better, but they may not work. When this happens, the person may need a special kind of care called .

Hospice care is a way of taking care of someone who is extremely sick and may not have much time left to live. Hospice care does not try to cure the liver disease, but it helps the person feel as comfortable as possible. Hospice care also helps the family and friends of the person cope with their feelings and prepare for saying goodbye.

Hospice care can be given at home, in a hospital, or in a special place called a hospice. Hospice care involves a team of people who work together to provide the best care possible. The team may include doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, chaplains, volunteers, and others. They will listen to the person's wishes and needs, and respect their choices and beliefs.

Hospice care can help the person with liver disease in many ways, such as:

  • Giving medicines to control pain and other symptoms, such as nausea, itching, or confusion.
  • Providing equipment and supplies, such as a bed, a wheelchair, or oxygen (if applicable).
  • Offering emotional and spiritual support, such as counseling, prayer, or .
  • Helping with daily activities, such as bathing, dressing, or eating.
  • Teaching the family and friends how to care for the person and themselves.
  • Arranging for other services, such as respite care, which gives the family and friends a break from caregiving.

Hospice care can also help the family and friends of the person with liver disease after the person passes away, such as:

  • Providing grief support, such as counseling, support groups, or memorial services.
  • Helping with practical matters, such as funeral arrangements, legal issues, or financial assistance.
  • Keeping in touch and following up, such as phone calls, letters, or visits.

Hospice care is a compassionate and respectful way of caring for someone who is extremely sick and may not have much time left to live. It can help the person and their family and friends find comfort, peace, and dignity during a difficult time.


Facing liver disease with a loved one can be challenging, but with the right support and information, you can navigate this journey together with and understanding. Remember to prioritize open communication, provide compassionate care, and seek the support of healthcare professionals when needed.


Liver Disease Foundation

Understanding Hospice Care

Palliative Care for Patients with End-Stage Liver Disease

Top 30 FAQs About Hospice: Everything You Need to Know

Understanding Hospice Care: Is it Too Early to Start Hospice?

What's the process of getting your loved one on hospice service?

Picking a hospice agency to provide hospice services

Medicare — Find and compare hospice providers

Providing Comfort During the Last Days of Life with Barbara Karnes RN (YouTube Video)

Preparing the patient, family, and caregivers for a “Good Death.”

Velocity of Changes in Condition as an Indicator of Approaching Death (often helpful to answer how soon? or when?)

The Dying Process and the End of Life

The Last Hours of Life

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Surviving Caregiving with Dignity, Love, and Kindness

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