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Your liver: An owner’s guide
Treat it right for a healthy payoff

» Your liver: The basics

» Keep your liver healthy

Signs of liver trouble

You may not always have symptoms of liver damage, but warning signs can include:

  • yellowing skin or eyes
  • abdominal swelling or pain
  • prolonged skin itching
  • very dark urine
  • very pale, bloody or tarlike stools
  • chronic fatigue, nausea or appetite loss

Liquor and your liver: Not a perfect pair

You can’t know for sure how much alcohol your liver can tolerate before it becomes damaged. For that reason, consider these facts:

  • Taking medication that contains acetaminophen and drinking just a small amount of alcohol can harm your liver.
  • Your liver may be more sensitive to alcohol than your parent’s or sibling’s liver is. Even one drink a day could be too much for you.
  • Women are more likely than men to suffer liver damage from alcohol.
  • Symptoms of liver damage may not show up for years.
  • Early detection of disorders can help you avoid permanent liver damage. Be honest when you talk with your doctor about the amount of alcohol you consume.

True or false? I never drink alcohol, so I’m safe from liver disease.

The answer is false. Viruses, hereditary defects and reactions to drugs and chemicals—as well as alcohol—can damage your liver.

Fortunately, your liver is a sturdy organ, able to work even after most of its cells become diseased. But once your liver degenerates beyond a certain point, it stops functioning, so keeping it healthy is critical.

Your liver: The basics

Your liver is one of your body’s largest organs. About the size of a football, this cone-shaped organ weighs nearly three pounds and is located behind the lower right side of your ribs.

Your liver performs a number of jobs:

  • It processes everything that enters your body, filtering out toxins and storing nutrients.
  • It regulates your metabolism and stores glucose that’s released when you need energy.
  • It manufactures chemicals, including bile and cholesterol, which help your body function.

More than a hundred diseases can affect your liver, including hepatitis and cirrhosis. If your doctor suspects you have liver disease, he or she will order diagnostic tests and, if necessary, recommend nutritional and other lifestyle changes to halt further damage.

Keep your liver healthy

To keep your liver in top shape, follow these lifestyle tips:

  • Limit or avoid alcohol. Even moderate drinking can cause liver disease in some people.
  • Eat a balanced, nourishing diet and exercise regularly.
  • Take only those drugs your doctor recommends for only as long as you need them.
  • Get liver function tests when needed, especially if you have risk factors for liver disease or you take medications that may damage the liver.
  • Avoid breathing in or touching aerosol sprays, insecticides, paints and other chemicals.

Your liver will keep you healthy your entire life—as long as you keep it healthy.


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