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Medications and the Liver

Since all medications are processed through the liver at least to some degree, people with liver disease must become aware of which medications can cause liver damage, which medications can worsen preexisting liver disease, and which medications are safe to take. It is the liver’s job to detoxify any substances that are potentially harmful to the body. An already damaged and weakened liver must work much harder than a healthy liver in order to accomplish this task. When a person with liver disease ingests a potentially hepatotoxic drug, this puts an additional strain on the liver and can result in further liver injury or possibly even liver failure. Even people with a healthy liver can develop liver disease as a consequence of ingesting a toxic medication or drug.
In general, people with liver disease should avoid medications known to be hepatotoxic. People who must be treated with a medication that is potentially hepatotoxic should have their LFTs closely monitored by their doctors. If a person’s LFTs become greater than three times baseline values, the medication causing these elevations should be discontinued. Also, it is essential that people with liver disease inform their liver specialists of every medication or drug that they are taking—including herbs, over-the-counter drugs and/or recreational drugs. There is no reason for the patient to expect the doctor to be judgmental. Her goal is the same as the patient’s. Therefore, complete information should be provided to the doctor concerning prescription medications, over-the-counter medications, and herbal and alternative therapies. Remember, a doctor’s objective is to help her patient get better and to help protect her patient from unintentional additional liver damage.

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