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Last Updated: October 02, 2017

Liver Cysts - Simple Cysts, Echinococcosis, Cystic Tumors and PLD

Overview

Liver cysts (also called hepatic cysts) are fluid-filled sacs that occur in the liver of roughly 5% of the population. They are usually asymptomatic and often discovered by chance during an abdominal imaging procedure, like computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Even though most liver cysts are benign, an early diagnosis is critical for proper treatment of the parasitic or cancerous subtypes. In most cases, treatment involves removal via minimally invasive surgical techniques.

Causes and Risk Factors

a healthy liver

Liver cysts fall into several categories with varying causes, diagnoses, and treatments.

Symptoms

Liver cysts generally do not affect liver function and may remain asymptomatic for years. When cysts become enlarged, they can rupture or push against other organs, causing bloating, a feeling of fullness, and a sudden pain in the upper right abdominal region. Parasitic cysts (echinococcosis) may also cause fever, bloody sputum, and severe skin itching. The type of echinococcosis caused by E. multilocularis (called alveolar echinococcosis) can cause symptoms similar to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Echinococcus multilocularis worm

Diagnosis and Treatment

Liver cysts are primarily diagnosed (often by chance) using imaging techniques such as a CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI. A physician may also perform a physical exam of the abdomen to feel for cysts. Cystic echinococcosis is diagnosed using immunodiagnostic tests that detect Echinococcus antibodies in the blood.

Most cysts do not require treatment and go away on their own. Symptomatic cysts that become enlarged or malignant are removed surgically. Fluid drainage is also performed, but the effect is only temporary. In some PLD patients, liver transplantation is required.

Prevention

Liver cyst disorders that are congenital (present from birth) or inherited are not preventable. A family history of liver cysts is a good indicator of the likelihood of developing this condition.

Parasitic cysts can be avoided by practicing good hygiene and proper food handling in parts of the world where Echinococcus infections are common, such as Africa, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Central and South America. In the United States, such precautions are advisable particularly for those who keep indoor/outdoor pets. Additionally, hunters should always wear gloves when handling wild animals.

Sources

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Authored by: Tina Shahian, PhD