Common myths about liver disease:
It’s always caused by alcohol
This is probably the biggest myth about liver disease. And it simply isn’t true.
There are many types of liver disease and they have many different causes. Alcohol is just one of them.
Autoimmune hepatitis is caused by your own immune system getting confused and attacking your liver. Drug Induced Liver Injury is a rare side effect that some people get after taking medicine prescribed by their doctor. Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease is increasingly common in the UK and is related to weight and diet.
But these are just some examples. You can find out more about the many types of liver disease on this page.
Viruses cause some types of liver disease. But they are much harder to catch than a cough or cold. You cannot get viral hepatitis from being near someone with the virus, or from touching them or something they have touched.
The most common form of viral hepatitis in the UK is hepatitis C. This can be spread via needles. For example, sharing needles for recreational drugs. Sometimes healthcare workers become infected by accident or mothers pass hepatitis to their baby around the time of birth. And some people have viral hepatitis as a result of medical procedures such as blood transfusions that took place before safety measures were introduced in 1991.
Sadly, the stigma around liver disease means many people aren’t getting the testing or care they need and are even being treated as if they are contagious.
It only happens to “alcoholics”
Not all liver disease is caused by alcohol. But if you talk about liver disease most people have an image of someone whose whole life revolves around alcohol and being drunk. The truth is that people with liver disease are no different to anyone else.
Many of us drink more than the recommended amount of alcohol and don’t think anything of it. It may be a couple of drinks in the evening to unwind, wine with dinner or a few beers at the pub. Often people who develop alcohol-related liver disease tell us they have friends who drink far more than them, but seem fine.
You do not have to be dependent on alcohol to be drinking enough to potentially damage your health. You can find out more about UK guidance on alcohol and how to cut down on this page.
It’s always reversible anyway
Your liver is amazing. It has over 500 jobs and can repair itself when it is damaged. But it can only take so much. If the damage is very severe, or carries on for a long time, your liver doesn’t get the chance to repair itself. When this happens, your liver can become scarred and stiffened and eventually stop working.
You cannot live without a liver. If your liver stops working the only option is a liver transplant. A very serious operation which will mean taking medication for the rest of your life.
You can find out more about liver transplants on this page.
People with liver disease are a burden on the NHS
and they don’t deserve treatment
We all value the NHS and rely on it when we need it most. If we have an accident or become ill, we don’t expect the doctors and nurses to check if it was somehow our own fault before they help. No-one asks to be ill.
Liver disease is no different. But we know that stigma is stopping people getting help early and meaning they have worse outcomes. This doesn’t help anyone.
You can read some of the stories people have shared about their experiences of stigma on this page.
Hepatitis is always caused by a virus
“Hepatitis” just means “inflammation of the liver”. Many types of liver disease can damage liver cells and lead to inflammation. Including conditions that are not caused by a virus.
Medical words are often confusing. To help with this you can read our useful words glossary on this page.
Cirrhosis is always caused by alcohol
Most people associated the word “cirrhosis” with alcohol-related liver disease. But it is a stage in many types of liver disease. Cirrhosis happens when your liver becomes scarred, or stiffened and may not work normally.
You can find out more about cirrhosis and watch John’s story of his experiences on this page.
It’s their own fault
We all make choices about our own lives. But we often don’t realise how much the society we live in limits our choices.
In the UK, drinking alcohol is normal and often encouraged. But we stigmatise people seen as drinking “too much”. This makes it hard for people to get help if their drinking has become a problem.
Diet is another common cause of liver disease. But buying and cooking healthy food is often much harder than it should be. Companies selling unhealthy fast food target areas where people have less money. So, getting hold of healthy food is even more difficult.
Some liver disease is caused by the genes we inherit from our parents, or by pure chance. There is nothing that can prevent these conditions.
But whatever the cause, no one chooses to get liver disease.