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How do Drugs/Medications Affect the Liver?


Upon entering the body, all drugs and medications must be processed. As with food and other substances, drugs are broken down and metabolized. Much of this metabolic process occurs within the liver. As such, it is particularly important to understand how medications affect the liver and its ability to function.

Drugs and medications can impact the liver in many ways. Some drugs are particularly hard on the liver and may cause damage if taken regularly over long periods of time.

The liver, too, can impact the metabolization of drugs in the body. Genetic differences, drug interactions, existing liver conditions, and certain foods can affect the processing of drugs in the liver. If such drugs metabolize too quickly, they may be eliminated from the body before they can take effect. If drugs are metabolized too slowly, they may result in more side effects.

Drugs & Liver Damage

Many drugs have the potential to damage the liver. Most of these drugs, however, are safe to take in occasional, normal doses.

Liver damage resulting from medication consumption is often the result of taking too much of a particular drug. Taking too much of a drug like acetaminophen (found in Tylenol, Vicks, Excedrin, Nyquil, and various other brands of medication) can cause jaundice and/or liver failure.

With other drugs, it can be less clear whether or not liver damage may occur. Generally, this form of drug-related liver damage is detected after a certain period of regular drug use. Occasionally, such liver damage may result in more serious liver disorders; this, however, is quite rare.

There are many medications that may cause liver damage; as such, it is important to determine whether or not the drugs you are taking may impact your liver.

Risk Factors for Medication-Based Liver Damage

Liver damage as a result of medication use can be difficult to predict. There are, however, a number of risk factors that patients should be aware of before consuming such drugs. If you have multiple risk factors and are taking a medication that may cause liver damage, you may wish to consult your doctor to see if there is a better drug available for you.

  • Risk factors include:
  •  Obesity
  •  Pregnancy
  •  Regular alcohol consumption
  •  Genetic predisposition to liver problems
  •  Drug sensitivity

How Medication Impacts the Liver

Drug-induced liver damage can affect the liver in numerous ways. Some drugs may physically damage the liver and its cells, whereas others may affect the liver’s enzymes and its ability to produce chemicals that the body needs. Some drugs may impact the liver’s ability to produce bile or may affect the flow of bile from the liver to the gallbladder. If you are taking a drug that may cause liver damage, it is important to understand how the drugs you are taking may impact liver function. By being aware of the potential side-effects of your medication, you can be more conscious of symptoms of liver problems, should they arise.

Few drugs actually cause permanent liver damage. If, however, you are suffering from symptoms such as stomach pain, chronic itching, and/or jaundice and suspect that these symptoms are related to a medication you are taking, consult a doctor immediately.

A few common drugs, such as statins, may elevate the enzyme levels in the liver. This may result in minor, asymptotic liver damage. If you are taking these drugs and have concerns about your liver, you may wish to undergo a liver function test (LFT).

Many medications have the potential to affect the liver and its ability to function. Be sure to research your medications before taking them. Consult a doctor if you suspect that your medication is adversely affecting your liver

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