Liver disease: Popular drug taken by most could increase risk of the dangerous condition

Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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Every day, over 40 people die from liver disease in the UK. Drinking heavily or being very overweight can lead to damage to liver cells and scarring. Over time, this can lead to a stage of advanced scarring within the liver known as cirrhosis. A lesser-known risk factor for the disease is paracetamol toxicity.

Paracetamol is an effective treatment for mild to moderate pain and fever in adults and children, when used as directed by the product information.

The maximum dose within a 24-hour period must never be exceeded.

Paracetamol overdose is one of the leading causes of acute liver failure.

Scientists have known for decades that paracetamol in large amounts is extremely toxic for the liver, but until now its mechanism of poisoning has eluded them.

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Dr Leonard Nelson, of Edinburgh University, said: “Paracetamol is the world’s preferred pain remedy. It’s cheap and considered safe and effective at therapeutic dose.

“However, drug-induced liver damage remains an important clinical problem and a challenge for developing safer drugs.

“Our findings reinforce the need for vigilance in paracetamol use and could help discover how harm caused by its adverse use might be prevented.”

In a study published in Science Direct, paracetamol and how it impacts the liver was investigated.

The study found how the drug can damage the liver by harming vital structural connections between adjacent cells in the organ.

When these cell wall connections – known as tight junctions – are disrupted, the liver tissue becomes damaged which in turn causes the cells to be unable to function properly.

This damage occurs in liver conditions including hepatitis, cirrhosis or cancer, however until now it was not linked to paracetamol toxicity.

Serious paracetamol overdoses occur twice as often in Britain than the rest of Europe, said the British Liver Trust.

The site continued: “Paracetamol-linked liver failures, so severe that the patient needs a transplant, happen in the UK eight times more than in Holland, twice as often than in France, and 66 times more than in Italy.

“Last year a study of seven countries commissioned by the European Medicines Agency found only Ireland came out worse than Britain.

“Paracetamol overdoses represent 20 percent of liver transplants across Europe but rise to 52 percent in Ireland and 28 percent in the UK, dropping to 1 percent in Italy.”

Signs you may be at risk of liver disease include:

  • Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
  • Abdominal pain and swelling
  • Swelling in the legs and ankles
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark urine colour
  • Pale stool colour
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Nausea or vomiting.

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