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01 Mar 2021

Liver Health Month - Myths vs. Facts


Just how much do you know about your Liver? In honour of Liver Health Month learn the answers to some of the most common myths surround your liver.

I can only get liver disease if I drink alcohol excessively or use drugs.

This is a myth.

You can be born with liver disease, contract it from a virus, develop it from what you eat and drink, be exposed to various toxins or suffer from it for unknown reasons. Alcohol only causes one out of more than 100 different types of liver disease. In Canada, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease, affecting over seven million Canadians.

Even young children can get liver disease.

This is a fact.

Pediatric liver specialists in Canada see thousands of children – from newborns to teens – who suffer from various forms of liver disease. The major causes of liver disease in children are genetics (e.g Wilson’s Disease, alpha 1 antitrypsin deficiency, tyrosinemia), viruses (e.g. hepatitis A, B, C) and blockages in the flow of bile from the liver (e.g. biliary atresia, alagille syndrome).

I would have noticed something was wrong if I had liver disease. I would feel sick.

You can have liver disease and not know it because the symptoms can be vague and easily confused with other health problems. In some cases, a person may have no symptoms at all but the liver may already have suffered significant damage.

If you do experience symptoms, they could take the form of fatigue, nausea, dark urine or yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).

Yellowing of the skin and of the whites of the eyes (jaundice) in babies is very common and should not be a cause for concern.

This is a myth.

Jaundice can be an early warning sign of liver disease. Many babies have “newborn jaundice” lasting three to five days after birth because their liver is not yet fully developed, however, jaundice that does not clear up after 14 days of life, dark urine and/or pale stools, an enlarged abdomen and vomiting are signs that your baby should be seen by his or her doctor.

I can get Cirrhosis of the liver even if I don't drink.

Cirrhosis is a scarring of the liver that can happen when any form of liver disease reaches an advanced stage. It is not only related to alcoholic liver disease. Cirrhosis develops because of pre-existing liver conditions or disease. They include:

    • Viral infections caused by chronic viral hepatitis (types B and C)
    • Metabolic disease such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, galactosemia and glycogen storage disorders
    • Inherited diseases such as Wilson’s Disease and hemochromatosis
    • Biliary cirrhosis resulting from diseases such as primary biliary cholangitis (PBC) and primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC)
    • Toxic hepatitis caused by severe reactions to prescribed drugs or prolonged exposure to environmental toxins
    • A heart condition such as congestive heart failure
    • Chronic alcoholism

Liver cancer is very common in Canada.

This is a fact.

Liver cancer is currently one of the fastest rising cancers in Canada. Many factors play a role in the development of liver cancer, such as chronic hepatitis B and C, consumption of alcohol, and obesity. 

Dementia symptoms are only caused by Alzheimer’s and only affect elderly people.

This is a myth.

When your liver starts to fail, toxins can build up into your brain causing a condition that resembles Dementia called hepatic encephalopathy (HE). HE is the deterioration in brain function observed in people with acute liver failure or chronic liver disease.

HE symptoms include trouble sleeping at night, difficulty thinking clearly, poor concentration, anxiety, mental fogginess, etc.

A liver cleanse is all I need to get my liver back in shape.

This is a myth.

Despite the promise of a newer, healthier you from well-marketed products and programs that are meant to cleanse your digestive system, the liver does not need to be cleansed – it does that job itself. To draw an analogy, soap does not need to be cleansed either!

A liver transplant is not a cure for liver disease.

This is a fact.

A liver transplant is a life-preserving operation that replaces a diseased and poorly-functioning liver with either a whole or portion of a healthy donated liver. While the diseased organ is replaced with a healthy liver, often the original disease can return and cause similar liver damage. For example, a liver transplant for hepatitis C does not eliminate the illness. In many cases, the virus will re-affect the liver within one year. Autoimmune disease (PBC, PSC and autoimmune hepatitis) are also known to re-occur after a liver transplant.

If I have regular annual check-ups, my doctor would tell me if I have or am at risk for developing liver disease.

This is a myth.

Basic liver tests are not part of annual check-ups requested by your family doctor, so many family doctors do not typically run these tests unless they suspect a possible liver issue. Obvious signs or symptoms may only develop when liver disease has already progressed to a severe stage, so it is important for everyone to learn more about the risk factors and symptoms of liver disease and then use this information to engage in liver-healthy discussions with your doctor during your check-up.

For more Liver health information be sure to visit liver.ca