A gastric ulcer is painful, but it's usually not life-threatening. An ulcer in the liver--more correctly called a liver abscess--is a more serious condition that requires medical intervention to prevent possible sepsis and death. Those who are vulnerable to liver ulcers need to be aware of the symptoms so they can begin treatment as soon as possible.
The condition referred to as a liver ulcer may be one of two things. On occasion, a peptic ulcer--an ulcer in the stomach, duodenum or esophagus--may penetrate into the liver. This is a rare condition. More commonly, a liver ulcer is actually a liver abscess or an area of the liver that becomes infected and filled with pus.
A liver abscess is caused by infection in the abdomen, blood or biliary tract. Sometimes such an infection can be caused by an endoscopy of the biliary system or by any trauma to the liver. It can also be a result of appendicitis, diverticulitis or a perforated bowel. Usually, more than one type of bacteria is found in a liver infection. Bacteroides, enterococcus, escherichia colie, klebsiella staphylococcus or streptococcus are the most common kinds of bacteria that cause this type of infection. A peptic ulcer is also generally caused by bacteria.
For a peptic ulcer that has extended into the liver, gastrointestinal bleeding is the most common symptom. With a liver abscess, patients may experience pain in the upper abdomen, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and unexpected weight loss. Other signs include dark urine, chalk-colored stool and jaundice, or yellow-tinted skin. Patients may also have weakness and fever or chills.
Doctors can use endoscopy to diagnose a peptic ulcer that extends into the liver. For a liver abscess, doctors use a liver biopsy, abdominal ultrasound or abdominal computed axial tomography (CT) scan to diagnose. A white blood cell count, blood culture for bacteria or liver function test are other ways to diagnose this condition.
In most cases, patients require surgery to drain the pus from the liver, followed by an intense course of antibiotics for four to six weeks. In a few cases, antibiotic treatment alone may work. Antibiotics and antacids are used to treat peptic ulcers. Left untreated, liver abscess may be fatal, so no patient should ignore his symptoms and hope the pain will go away on its own.