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Am I at Risk of from Liver Damage?

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If you are concerned that your wine or beer habit could be damaging your liver, you should know that experts say a rise in alcohol consumption and a trend in expanding waistlines are helping to fuel an epidemic of liver disease. This can lead to fibrosis or cirrhosis, says AARP’s recent article entitled “Gauge Your Risk of Liver Damage.” Let’s look at the risks.

  1. Alcohol. Anurag Maheshwari, M.D., a gastroenterologist with the Institute for Digestive Health and Liver Disease at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, says that a safe alcohol limit may seem surprisingly low: no more than one alcoholic beverage a day (or seven drinks in a one-week period) for women and two or fewer drinks for men (or 14 drinks over a week’s time).

“When patients drink alcohol in excess, beyond the capacity of the liver to metabolize it, the excess alcohol is turned into fat and stored,” Maheshwari says. “Called steatosis, this fat interferes with the liver’s function and causes cell death.”

  1. A Fatty Liver. There is a growing incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), in which too much fat is stored in the liver.

“Obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol — common features of metabolic syndrome — are all known major risk factors for the development of fatty liver disease,” says Craig Lammert, M.D., assistant professor of medicine at the Indiana University School of Medicine and a practicing gastroenterologist and hepatologist at IU Health. As with alcohol-related liver damage, these conditions cause fat to be deposited in the liver. Inflammation affects the liver by way of a condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which damages and kills liver cells.

  1. Drugs & Supplements. Some medications and supplements can also injure your liver, depending on the dose and other factors. Taking too much acetaminophen (Tylenol) is the most common over-the-counter risk. However, patients should have few problems if they take the painkiller as prescribed, which includes consuming no more than 4,000 milligrams in a day. In addition, antibiotics are one of the most important causes of liver injury, especially Augmentin (a combination of amoxicillin and clavulanate), which is used to treat common bacterial problems, like sinus and urinary tract infections.
  2. Viral Infections. Hepatitis B and C are viral infections of the liver that can lead to liver damage and even cancer. However, most people with hepatitis A recover with no lasting harm. People contract hepatitis B (HBV) through blood, semen and other body fluids and by sharing personal items (needles, razors) with someone who has the infection. Hepatitis C (HCV) is contracted through contact with the blood of someone with HCV, frequently via sharing drug paraphernalia or through a transfusion of contaminated blood or organ transplant prior to 1992, when blood started to be screened for the virus. More than half of people with HCV develop a chronic infection, and up to 25% get cirrhosis over 10 to 20 years.

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Reference: AARP (Nov. 9, 2021) “Gauge Your Risk of Liver Damage”