How Much Do You Know About Protecting Your Liver?

Your liver keeps you alive by filtering dangerous toxins from your blood. So what are you doing to return the favor? It's up to you to protect your liver from viruses, poisons, and other serious threats. Take this short quiz to find out how much you know about keeping your liver healthy.

1. It won't hurt my liver to take more than the recommended amount of Tylenol if I have a really bad headache.

True

False

2. Some people can drink heavily for years without damaging their livers.

True

False

3. You have to be an alcoholic to develop alcohol-related liver problems.

True

False

4. Which of the following can be toxic to the liver?

a. Over-the-counter painkillers such as acetaminophen

b. Antibiotics

c. Some herbal remedies

d. All of the above

5. Many people who have viral hepatitis (that is, B or C) don't even know it.

True

False

6. Who is NOT at increased risk for hepatitis C?

a. Men and women with multiple sex partners

b. Health-care workers

c. People who inject illegal drugs

d. Coworkers of people with hepatitis C

7. Being overweight can tax the liver.

True

False

Your Results

1. It won't hurt my liver to take more than the recommended amount of Tylenol if I have a really bad headache.

The correct answer is: False.

Too much Tylenol (acetominophen) can be severely toxic to the liver. As early as 1977, an advisory panel for the Food and Drug Administration recommended adding a caution to Tylenol packages that warned "Do not exceed recommended dosage or take for more than 10 days because severe liver damage may occur." You should be careful, too, to avoid multiple dosages by checking cold and flu medications to see if they contain Tylenol. And if you have hepatitis C or regularly consume more than three drinks a day, check with your doctor before taking Tylenol. If you are taking Tylenol and develop any symptoms of liver damage -- including unusual tiredness, abdominal pain, or yellow discoloration of the eyes and skin, call your doctor immediately.

2. Some people can drink heavily for years without damaging their livers.

The correct answer is: False.

Here's one of the few guarantees in life: Heavy drinking will likely cause liver damage. At the very least, the liver will collect extra fat cells, a condition called fatty liver. This condition isn't dangerous on its own, but it can be the first step toward serious diseases such as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. People will hepatitis C should not drink at all, because alcohol causes the virus to multiply faster.

3. You have to be an alcoholic to develop alcohol-related liver problems.

The correct answer is: False.

Some people are much more sensitive to alcohol than others, and in some cases, even social drinkers can develop alcohol-related liver problems, especially if they engage in binge drinking. Alcohol can be especially dangerous for people who already have chronic liver problems such as hepatitis B or C. If you have one of these diseases, you should stay away from alcohol completely.

4. Which of the following can be toxic to the liver?

The correct answer is: d. All of the above.

Other medications that can potentially harm the liver include some statins, diabetes medications and antifungal agents, tricyclic antidepressants, and some hormones. Examples of potentially harmful herbs include valerian, kava kava, and comfrey. Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal remedies, and carefully read the labels of all medications. Notably, bottles of acetaminophen now carry warnings for people who drink more than three alcoholic beverages every day. And even low doses of ibuprofen may cause damage in people with hepatitis C, according to a recent study--though many doctors still consider it safe.

5. Many people who have viral hepatitis (that is, B or C) don't even know it.

The correct answer is: True.

Many people with chronic cases of hepatitis B or hepatitis C don't notice any symptoms even as their livers become permanently damaged. Still, there are a few warning sings to watch out for, including jaundice (a yellowish tint to the skin or eyes), abdominal swelling, severe abdominal pain, persistent itching, dark urine, chronic fatigue, nausea, and a loss of appetite.

6. Who is NOT at increased risk for hepatitis C?

The correct answer is: d. Coworkers of people with hepatitis C

The correct answer is: d. Coworkers of someone with hepatitis C Compared with hepatitis B, hepatitis C is hard to catch. Most people with hepatitis C contracted the disease by injecting drugs with contaminated needles, so relatives of infected people (including spouses) usually aren't at risk. Still, it's important not to share razors, toothbrushes, or other personal-care items with infected family members.

7. Being overweight can tax the liver.

The correct answer is: True.

Like heavy drinkers, overweight people can develop fatty livers. Over time, the liver can become inflamed, and every once in awhile, cirrhosis sets in. If you're overweight and already have liver problems, a weight-loss program could be an important part of your treatment. If your liver is healthy, regular exercise and a sensible, low-fat diet could help keep it that way. Eating yogurt regularly may also help protect the liver, according to a recent study.

References

American Liver Foundation. 50 ways to love your liver. 2002.

American Liver Foundation. What are the myths vs. facts about alcohol and the liver? 2002.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Alcohol Alert. January 1993.

Riley TR et al. Preventive strategies in chronic liver disease. American Family Physician. November 1, 2001.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. FDA announces new alcohol warnings for pain relievers and fever reducers. October 21, 1998.

Cleveland Clinic. Hepatitis C Management Frequently Asked Questions. October 2004.

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