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Liver Disease FAQs

Reviewed by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP on October 14, 2016

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. 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/are the most common cause(s) of chronic liver disease in the U.S?

A:Alcohol abuse.

Alcohol abuse is the most common cause of liver disease in America. Alcohol is directly toxic to liver cells and can cause inflammation (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, and 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 in the "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 solid organ inside the body. True or False?

A:True.

The liver is 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.

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 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.

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Q:How is cirrhosis is most accurately (definitively) 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 is the most common cause of chronic viral hepatitis in the U.S.

It is passed from person to person sexually, and by sharing used, infected needles or other drug equipment to inject 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:The liver is a critical organ for many bodily functions. Interference with the 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 results in the accumulation of fluid in the tissues of the body, referred to as edema.

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