It is estimated that liver toxicity accounts for between 6% and 70% of reported cases of adverse and fatal drug reactions globally 2. However, this figure is dose-dependent on the offending drug and the cause of liver damage.
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What exactly is your liver?Back to top
- The second largest organ in your body (after the skin)
- A meaty structure that sits mainly behind the rib cage
- Weighs approximately 1.5kg
- Reddish brown in colour and has a rubbery texture
- Your body’s “purification factory”
- Normally you can’t feel it because it’s protected by the rib cage
Liver damage can occur before symptoms appearBack to top
Are you at risk?Back to top
Risk factors may include:
- Certain medications
- Overdosing on medication, exceeding prescribed treatment dosage, or ignoring direction of use (pain killers such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, codeine)
- Use or experimentation with injectable drugs or illicit drugs
- Pre-existing medical conditions e.g. liver disease, HIV/AIDS, malnutrition, fasting or dieting
- Past blood transfusions
- Sexual activity
- Direct contact with infected persons (Hepatitis, TB)
- Alcohol consumption
- Occupational exposure to blood products (through accidental needle prick)
- Exposure to toxic chemicals (polluted industrial areas, poor sanitation, sewerage contamination, infection and disease outbreaks)
- Family history of liver disease
- Working in or travelling to places of high endemicity without immunization (malaria)
Why your liver is importantBack to top
As your body’s “purification factory”, the liver:
- Filters-out toxins
- Regulates and cleanses a litre and a half of blood per minute of virtually every foreign substance entering your system
- Makes new proteins needed to strengthen the immune system
- Helps the body to resist and fight infection
- Processes many of the drugs in your system
How drugs cause liver damageBack to top
Signs and symptoms 4, 5Back to top
Early symptoms include generalised itching, loss of appetite, fatigue, feeling sick (nausea), diarrhoea, and feeling unwell. Early symptoms are usually overlooked, as they can be very similar to other common ailments (hangover after excessive consumption of alcohol, or biliousness and indigestion after consuming junk food).
Diagnosis and treatmentBack to top
Diagnosis includes a liver function test or blood tests to see if certain liver enzymes that circulate in the bloodstream have increased. It is critically important that you and your doctor monitor your liver enzymes regularly if you are starting or you are already taking chronic medication.
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