Answers FAQ

Liver Disease FAQs

Reviewed by Jay W. Marks, MD

Take the Liver Disease Quiz First! Before reading this FAQ, challenge yourself and
Test your Knowledge!

Q:Liver disease refers to any abnormal process that affects the liver. True or False?

A:True. Liver disease is any abnormal process that affects the liver. The more severe the liver disease, the greater the effect on liver function. It is true that with the loss of 75% of the liver's function the liver cannot keep up with its required functions and it begins to fail.

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Q:What is the most common cause of liver disease in the U.S?

A:Alcohol abuse. Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver disease in North America. Alcohol is directly toxic to liver cells and can cause inflammation, referred to as alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis due to extreme scarring of the liver.

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Q:What is a main symptom of liver disease?

A:Jaundice. Jaundice is a sign of liver, gallbladder, or certain blood disorders. Bilirubin, normally removed from the blood by the liver and excreted in bile and stool, increases in the blood. The skin and the eyes become yellow due to the buildup of bilirubin in the skin and "whites" of the eyes (sclera). The urine becomes dark from the excretion of bilirubin in the urine, and the stool becomes clay-colored due to the absence of bilirubin.

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Q:The liver is the largest organ inside the body. True or False?

A:True. The liver the largest solid organ in the body; it also is considered a gland because, among its many functions, it makes and secretes bile.

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Q:Besides excessive alcohol intake, what other substances can cause liver disease?

A:Acetaminophen, mushrooms and statins. Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) in excess can cause liver failure that often is permanent and results in death. Numerous antibiotics and statins (cholesterol-controlling medications) may cause liver inflammation and failure. Excessive amounts of vitamin A can cause hepatitis, cirrhosis, and liver failure. Additionally, many mushrooms are poisonous to the liver, and eating unidentified mushrooms gathered in the woods can be lethal due to liver failure.

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Q:Is hepatitis a form of liver disease?

A:Yes. Yes, hepatitis is a form of liver disease. The term hepatitis means "inflammation of the liver," and liver cells can become inflamed for many reasons, including alcohol, drugs, toxins, and infections. Recall from question 1: Liver disease is any abnormal process that affects the liver.

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Q:What is the name of late-stage chronic liver disease?

A:Cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a late-stage of liver disease. Diseases that lead to cirrhosis injure and kill liver cells. Inflammation and repair associated with the dying liver cells causes scar tissue to form. Progressive scarring leads to cirrhosis. Liver failure and liver cancer are complications of cirrhosis.

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Q:How is cirrhosis is most accurately diagnosed?

A:Liver biopsy. Liver biopsy (in which a sample of liver tissue is removed and analyzed under the microscope) is the only test that can confirm a diagnosis of cirrhosis.

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Q:What is the most common type of chronic viral hepatitis in the U.S?

A:Hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is the most common cause of chronic viral hepatitis in the U.S. It is passed from person to person sexually, particularly through male homosexual activities and by use of illicit, injectable drugs. It also may be passed from mother to infant at the time of birth. Hepatitis B is the second most common cause of chronic hepatitis in the U.S. Hepatitis D is a chronic viral infection of the liver but occurs only in a small proportion of individuals with chronic hepatitis B. Hepatitis A and E cause primarily acute hepatitis and not chronic hepatitis.

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Q:What important functions are affected by severe, acute, or chronic liver disease?

A:Blood clotting, Elimination of water, salt, drugs, and toxins from the body and Manufacture of blood proteins. The liver is a critical organ for many bodily functions. Interference with liver function results in excessive bleeding, jaundice, sensitivity to the effects of drugs, and toxic effects on the brain (encephalopathy). Interference with the production of blood proteins and the elimination of water and salt result in the accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body, referred to as edema.

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Q:The liver is considered part of which bodily system?

A:The digestive system. The liver is part of the digestive system. Organs responsible for ingesting, processing, and removing food from the body are considered digestive organs; and include the salivary glands, the mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, colon, rectum, and anus.

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Q:Liver tissue does not feel pain. True or False?

A:True. The liver itself does not sense pain. Because of this, the liver can be cut, burned, or compressed without causing the sensation of pain. Inside the tissue that encapsulates the liver, there are pain fibers which are stimulated when the liver is stretched. This means that anything the causes the liver to stretch (such as inflammation) can cause liver pain.

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Q:How much does the liver weigh?

A:3.5 pounds. Surprised? Also measuring about 8 inches wide, 6.5 inches in length, and about 4.5 inches in thickness, your liver weighs about 3.5 pounds (1.6 kilograms)!

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