Selected topics related to occupational exposures. Part IV. Occupational liver disease

Dis Mon. 2000 Apr;46(4):295-310. doi: 10.1016/s0011-5029(00)90036-1.


Occupational and environmental substances associated with liver injury include industrial chemicals, drugs, certain bacterial and viral infections, and other physical agents. Hepatotoxic chemical agents can be classified as direct hepatotoxins, indirect hepatotoxins, or agents that cause liver injury as a result of host idiosyncrasy. More than 100 industrial chemicals have been shown to be acutely hepatotoxic. Occupations with hepatotoxin exposures are numerous and include farm workers, chemists, dry cleaners, electroplaters, garage workers, health care workers, nurses, painters, printers, rayon makers, and others. Clinical presentation of occupational liver disease may be acute/subacute or chronic but is often insidious. Some hepatotoxins are capable of causing malignancy. The key to diagnosis of occupational liver disease is exposure history. The occupational and environmental history should include a brief description of the patient's current and recent jobs to the extent necessary to assess their potential for workplace hepatotoxic exposures. Confounders such as obesity, alcohol, and viral hepatitis are common, and a careful history and examination are essential. A variety of tests are used to evaluate liver disease and may include serum markers, tests of synthetic liver function, clearance tests, and anatomic tests. A key responsibility of the primary care provider is to prevent further liver injury from preventable occupational exposures; not only the patient but also coworkers may be at risk. Efforts should be made to ensure that patients with potential hepatotoxic exposures are working or living in safe conditions. Collaboration with an occupational specialist may be especially useful in this regard.