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Common liver myths

Often what people think they know about the liver can be as dangerous to their health as what they don’t know. There are many preconceived notions, misconceptions and myths about liver disease. Knowing the facts and dispelling the harmful myths can be your key to a healthy life.

Myth: Victims of liver disease are alcoholics.

FACT: Liver disease is not a disease specific to alcohol drinkers. There are more than 100 causes of liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease of the liver not associated with excessive or prolonged alcohol consumption is the most common cause of abnormal liver tests in the U.S. Certain groups of people are recognised as having an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, especially those who are obese, those who have diabetes and those with high levels of cholesterol and triglycerides (fats) in their blood.

Myth: Alcohol can damage the liver only when taken in excess.

FACT: Alcohol is harmful to the liver so any amount can produce damage to the liver. The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism recommends moderate drinking and that means no more than one drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men (one drink equals one 12-ounce bottle of beer or wine cooler, one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits).

Myth: Stopping alcohol intake when one has advanced liver disease already is useless.

FACT: Even in advanced liver disease, it is still beneficial to stop drinking alcohol. Studies showed that people with advanced liver disease (cirrhosis) who continue drinking have only 33% chance of surviving for 5 years compared to 65% of those who stopped.

Myth: Fatty liver only affects fat people.

FACT: Thin people or those of average build can also get fatty liver. People can develop fatty liver even if they do not have health problems such as diabetes or obesity. Regardless of built, people can get fatty liver from an unhealthy lifestyle that causes fat deposits to build up in their liver cells.

Myth: I am a healthy adult. I don't have to worry about liver problems.

FACT: Liver problems can strike anyone, from infants to seniors. Liver disease can be hereditary, caused by toxic substances, viruses and bacteria or an unhealthy lifestyle. One of the first signs of liver damage is fatty ilver, a condition characterised by the accumulation of fat in liver cells.

Myth: I should feel pain when my liver is unwell.

FACT: In the early stage of liver disease, your liver may become inflamed. However, unlike most other parts of your body that become hot and painful when inflamed, an inflamed liver may cause you no discomfort at all. Liver inflammation can slowly worsen, causing scarring or fibrosis to appear. As fibrosis worsens, cirrhosis develops and the liver becomes seriously scarred, hardened and unable to function properly. By the time you experience symptoms such as jaundice, your liver would have been severely damaged.