HOLLYWOOD, Fla. - Recent data says more than 75 percent of baby boomers carry a virus that can damage their liver, which could then lead to liver disease.
The liver is the largest solid organ in the body and it plays an important role in a variety of body functions.
"It detoxifies a lot of things in our bodies and it's also responsible for certain hormones and certain proteins we make on a regular basis that we need everyday for digestion," explained Gastroenterologist Dr. Barry Migicovsky.
Any disruption in how the liver works can lead to liver disease. Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Obesity can lead to a condition known as fatty liver disease. And then there are viruses like Hepatitis B and C.
Robert McFann was diagnosed with Hepatitis C following a blood transfusion in the late 1970's.
"I remember the discussion with the doctor when I got out of the hospital and he said we discovered the antibodies in your system for non A non B and I said why don't you just call it C," said McFann.
Symptoms of liver disease include an unexplained feeling of tiredness or weakness, bleeding from the nose or gums and/or yellow eyes or skin-known as jaundice.
People with liver disease may also bruise easily and experience swelling of the feet, legs or abdomen.
But many people, like McFann, experience no symptoms. Years after being diagnosed with Hep C, Migicovsky recommended a biopsy to check for possible damage.
"And he goes in and he found the first evidence of scarring even though my liver functioned normally," said McFann.
He underwent a regimen of drugs to eradicate Hepatitis C. For everyone else, Migicovsky says protecting your liver is simple.
"Go see your doctor once a year get a regular check up see what's going on, if there are issues and if there are issues, deal with it and again everything in moderation," he advised.
And what about over the counter 'liver aids' sold at health food stores? Doctors say herbs like milk thistle probably won't do any harm but don't expect them to undo damage. The most important thing they say is to avoid fatty foods, alcohol and drugs that can harm your liver.
Another important note: To avoid medication induced liver disease, talk to your doctor about your diet and alcohol consumption. Be careful about overuse of acetaminophen, especially combined with alcohol.
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