November 17, 2003
So, you haven't probably spent a lot of time thinking about the...
"Life of a Liver
Twenty-four hours a day, nonstop, your liver (which is located on
the right side of your body near your abdomen) performs many tasks
to keep your body running smoothly.
- It's like a vacuum! It cleans out poisons from your blood.
- It's like a warehouse! It stores vitamins and minerals and makes
sure your body gets the right amounts.
- It's like a bodybuilder! It produces just the right amount of
amino acids to build strong, healthy muscles.
- It's like a gas station! It keeps your body fueled up with just
the right amount of glucose (sugar).
- It's like a meter! It regulates any medicines you are taking.
(Before some medicines can work, the liver has to start them up.)
It also regulates hormones in your body.
- It's like a factory! It produces an important digestive liquid
It may not sound like all
that glamorous of an organ, but you can't live without it, and it's
worth taking care of. Often, when people think of liver damage,
they think of drinking too much. While this is a lifestyle choice
that can certainly cause liver damage, have you ever considered:
"Sharing a toothbrush
or razor - although sharing may be considered an act of friendship,
it's better to use your own because hepatitis can be transmitted
through sores on the mouth or cuts on the skin."
Inflammation of the liver, caused by infectious or toxic agents
and characterized by jaundice, fever, liver enlargement, and abdominal
Source: The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English
Language, Fourth Edition Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin
In the news recently:
"Hepatitis A usually is mild but it can cause fever, exhaustion,
vomiting, abdominal pain and, in rare cases, death. As of Saturday,
510 cases of the illness had been confirmed in Pennsylvania, the
state health department said on its Web site. On Friday state authorities
said one person had died from the illness."
These 510 people have made
the news, but...
"An estimated 180,000
hepatitis A infections occur in the United States each year. Hepatitis
A is most commonly contracted by mouth through food or water that
has been contaminated by fecal matter. It is considered to be the
least destructive of the hepatitis viruses because, unlike the other
types, it rarely leads to permanent liver damage. Within a few weeks,
the symptoms will have gone away on their own and the hepatitis
A virus will no longer be in your system."
What is Hepatitis A, and
what about other forms of the disease that can be much more serious?
The ABC's of Hepatitis:
is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis A
can affect anyone. In the United States, hepatitis A can occur in
situations ranging from isolated cases of disease to widespread
is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The
virus, which is called hepatitis B virus (HBV), can cause lifelong
infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver
failure, and death."
is a disease of the liver caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV).
You may be at risk for hepatitis C and should contact your medical
care provider for a blood test if you..."
is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis D virus (HDV), a defective
virus that needs the hepatitis B virus to exist. Hepatitis D virus
(HDV) is found in the blood of persons infected with the virus.
is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis E virus (HEV) transmitted
in much the same way as hepatitis A virus. Hepatitis E, however,
does not occur often in the United States."
The 510 people with Hepatitis
A in Pennsylvania have recently made the news, but what about those
living (and dieing) with B and C?
"Hepatitis B infects
more than 100,000 people in the United States each year, with 70%
of new cases occurring in people between the ages of 15 to 39 -
and 75% of these people are teens."
"Like hepatitis B,
hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis C is
the most serious type of hepatitis virus and is now the leading
cause of liver failure requiring transplantation among adults. It
leads to nearly 10,000 deaths each year. An estimated 3.9 million
Americans are infected with this virus, most often because of blood
products or blood transfusions before 1990, drug use, or unprotected
sexual activities. More than 80% of those people will remain infected
for the rest of their lives, and 20% of those will go on to develop
cirrhosis and liver failure. There is currently no vaccine to prevent
hepatitis C, and the medications available to treat it are effective
in less than 30% of the cases."
The best way to avoid problems
resulting from hepatitis, is to avoid contracting it. Vaccines do
exist for hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but not currently for hepatitis
C. Much of avoidance is lifestyle choices, but nothing is a 100
percent guarantee, and once you have it, you may not even know it's
People with chronic hepatitis
B or C may not have any symptoms at all. But in some people, chronic
hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when
the liver cells die and are replaced by scar tissue and fat. The
liver stops working and can't cleanse the body of wastes. People
in the early stages of cirrhosis may not have symptoms. When cirrhosis
gets worse, symptoms begin. They may include weight loss, fatigue,
jaundice, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite. Cirrhosis can lead
to liver failure (the liver stops working) and liver cancer.
Questions of the Week:
So, what does all this mean for the daily life of the average teen?
Aside from avoiding raw green onions (as news reports have suggested),
what other choices can people make to reduce their risk of contracting
Hepatitis A? What about Hepatitis B and C? What lifestyle choices
increase a persons chances of contracting these viruses? What minor
modifications might some people be able to make that could reduce
their risks? What major lifestyle changes might others need to make?
What information about the various Hepatitis viruses do teens and
young adults need to help them make educated, safe, and healthy
Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.
I look forward to reading
what you have to say.
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum