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Liver Cysts

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What are Liver Cysts?

Liver cysts also known as hepatic cysts in Singapore, are sacs filled with fluids that develop in the liver. They usually do not cause any complications. While it might sound scary to have an abnormality such as a cyst in the liver, they are generally benign (in most people), meaning they are not cancerous.
Liver cysts are rare, affecting only approximately 5% of the world’s population, and even rarer are malignant (cancerous) cysts.

There are a few types of liver cysts:

  • Simple liver cyst: most common type of liver cyst. 
  • Polycystic liver disease: hereditary condition. 
  • Echinococcal cysts: associated with a parasitic infection.
  • Biliary cysts: congenital in origin (born with it).

What are the common causes?

The cause of liver cysts depends on its type, but nearly all liver cysts are congenital, this means you are born with it.

Other causes could include:

  • Malformation of bile ducts
  • Infection by the echinococcus parasite
  • Inherited from family

What are the common symptoms of Liver Cysts in Singapore?

Most of the time, liver cysts do not cause any symptoms. But after some time, liver cysts may start to grow and become bigger, this is when symptoms are usually observed. Symptoms include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen
  • Abdominal bloating 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling full after small meals
  • Shortness of breath
  • Jaundice
  • Fever and sudden sharp pain (might be due to the cyst bursting)
  • Able to physically feel bumps through the abdomen at the site of the liver

Are Liver Cysts painful?

Most of the time, liver cysts do not produce any symptoms, so you may not feel any pain or discomfort at all. However, in some individuals, the cyst might grow exponentially, causing some pain in the upper right side of the abdomen. 

On rare occasions, the cyst might grow too big until it ruptures, that would cause a sudden sharp pain and be accompanied by a fever.

Who is at risk of Liver Cysts in Singapore?

While most liver cysts are congenital, there are some factors that might increase your risk of liver cysts: 

  • Gender: women are more likely to develop liver cysts than men.
  • Age: your risk increases as you age.
  • Geographic location: living or travelling in countries where the echinococcus parasite is endemic will increase your risk of liver cysts associated with it.
  • Family history: if you have relatives with liver cysts, your risk also increases.

How are Liver Cysts diagnosed?

As liver cysts do not usually cause symptoms, they are often discovered by chance during screenings for other conditions. However, liver cysts are observable on imaging techniques, such as:

  • Computed Tomography scans (CT-Scans)
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)
  • Ultrasound

What are the treatment options for Liver Cysts in Singapore?

Since most liver cysts are asymptomatic, they usually do not require any treatments. If your liver cysts are causing symptoms, the following treatment options are available:

  • Cyst fenestration: surgical deroofing where part of the cyst wall is removed, allowing it to drain.
  • Percutaneous aspiration: ultrasounds or CT-scans are used to guide the insertion of needles or catheters to drain the cyst.
  • Hepatic resection: removal of the affected part of the liver.
  • Surgery: to remove benign or malignant cysts/tumours.
  • Liver transplant: mostly used for individuals with polycystic liver disease that are not responding to treatment.

Frequently asked questions

Are liver cysts common?
No, they are rare, affecting only approximately 5% of the world’s population.
Are liver cysts contagious?
No, they are either congenital or develop as you grow older. You may get liver cysts from an infection by the echinococcus parasite, but it cannot be passed from person to person.

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