IMPORTANT FACTS YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT YOUR LIVER.
- The liver takes toxins out of the blood. It does a lot other jobs in the body, including making bile — a liquid that helps you digest food. It turns our food and drinks into energy and nutrients, and helps the body use carbohydrates. The organ helps the blood clot.
- It is a wedge-shaped organ, about the size of a football and weighs about 3 pounds. It is located on the right side of the body, under the rib cage.
- Doctors use blood tests to check the liver for injury, disease, or infection. These are usually a series done at the same time. The test can be called a hepatic function panel or liver profile.
- It is the only organ that can grow back when part of it is damaged or removed. That’s why people are able to donate parts of their liver. You don’t have to be related to someone to give them part of your liver, although most donors are usually relatives or close friends.
- Some people go on “cleanses” — limiting their diets to certain juices or foods, hoping to wash away toxins from their livers. There’s no scientific proof that these detox diets work. Instead, a healthy diet will give your liver the nutrients it needs.
- Your skin and eyes can turn a yellow shade when there’s too much of something called bilirubin in your blood. Bilirubin is a yellow pigment your body makes when it breaks down red blood cells. Normally, the liver filters out bilirubin. But if you have too much of it or if you have liver damage, you can get jaundice. Hepatitis A is one example of an illness that results in jaundice. Also, newborns often have jaundice because their livers are still developing, and they have trouble filtering the bilirubin.
- It breaks down the alcohol you drink to help get it out of your body. But drinking more alcohol than your liver can process may cause damage. There are several types of alcohol-related liver disease: fatty liver disease, alcoholic hepatitis, and alcoholic cirrhosis. If you find it hard to cut back on alcohol, ask a doctor or counselor for help.
- Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) can cause serious liver damage. It can be found in more than 600 medications, including prescription drugs and many over-the-counter pain, cold, and cough remedies. For adults, the daily limit of acetaminophen is equal to six extra-strength Tylenol tablets from all sources combined. Read the ingredients carefully, and follow the directions on the label and your doctor’s advice. If you’re taking that much Tylenol for more than 2 weeks, talk to your doctor.
- Cirrhosis, scarring of the liver with worse function, is the most serious type of liver disease. Though alcohol can contribute to cirrhosis – up to 1 in 5 heavy drinkers gets it – it can also result from hepatitis B or C, among many other causes. You can’t reverse liver damage from cirrhosis.
- Liver disease can be silent for a very long time. As many as half of people who have it don’t have any symptoms at all. If you do have warning signs, they’re often vague, like being really tired and having achy muscles. You may also have itchy skin, swelling in your belly, dark urine, confusion, or yellowing of the eyes or skin. You’ll need to see a doctor for blood tests to find out for sure if your organ is the problem.
- Drinking less alcohol can help prevent liver problems. If you have a drinking problem, seek help to quit. There are other things you can do for your liver, too. Get to a healthy weight with exercise and a well-balanced diet. Also, consider getting tested to see if you have hepatitis C. The CDC suggests you get tested if you’re a Baby Boomer, if you ever used IV drugs, or if you had a blood transfusion before 1992. Ask your doctor if you should get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, too.
- There is a vaccine for hepatitis B, but not for hepatitis C. In the U.S., the hepatitis B vaccine is given to all babies and children, as well as most adults. It’s given as a series of three shots over 6 months.
- Hepatitis C is usually spread by blood, either through a hospital needle-stick accident or sharing needles when injecting drugs. It can be spread from an infected mom to her baby during birth. It can sometimes be spread during sex. The rule of thumb is that if you’re at risk for an STD, you’re also at risk for hepatitis. If you’re with more than one partner, always use condoms.