Liver disease on the increase

November 12, 2012

Liver disease on the increase

Recent studies have shown that fatal cases of liver disease are rising year on year – with alcohol contributing to around one third of total cases of the disease. This rise is in direct contrast to deaths resulting from cardiac disease and other cancers – all have which have been steadily declining.

Statistics show that most deaths from liver disease occur in the under 70s and that in the under 40s around 10% of deaths are caused by disease of the liver. This recent study also uncovered several other interesting factors -

  • Liver disease affects more men than women
  • Deaths related to diseases of the liver with a link to alcohol are more common in areas of high deprivation
  • More than 66% of patients with disease of the liver died in hospital rather than at home

Liver disease – what is it?

The term ‘liver disease’ includes several medical disorders affecting the liver; these are divided into the following categories -

  • Alcoholic liver disease – where liver damage is the result of excessive misuse of alcohol, this includes various stages and conditions including fatty liver, hepatitis and cirrhosis
  • Fatty liver disease – excessive fat in the liver, one of the most common of the diseases of the liver generally leading to more serious conditions such as hepatitis or fibrosis. This variation of the disease may be sub-divided into alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Chronic conditions such as cirrhosis and fibrosis resulting from long term liver damage – these conditions usually, but not always, appear in the final stages of alcoholic liver disease; they may also be caused by viral damage. Fibrosis, (scarring of the liver), and cirrhosis, (scarring coupled with the development of hard nodules on the liver), prevent normal liver function and the resulting damage is irreversible
  • Primary liver cancer originating in the liver itself is relatively rare in the UK and has a number of risk factors including obesity, alcohol abuse and viral infections
  • Viral disease of the liver resulting from a viral infection
  • Pancreatitis

The liver is a complex, vital organ responsible for filtering toxins and harmful substances from the blood, fighting infection and disease and regulating cholesterol levels in the blood, it is highly resilient and able to re-grow if damaged.

Symptoms

Unfortunately most diseases of the liver cause few, if any, signs and symptoms until severe damage has been caused to the liver itself. The symptoms may be vague, non-specific and the disease itself may not be diagnosed unless tests are being carried out for other medical conditions. In the later stages of the disease symptoms may include some or all of the following -

  • Nausea
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdominal area around the liver
  • Edema in the ankles and/or abdomen
  • Impaired mental function

Alcohol consumption

Excessive consumption of alcohol is a known risk factor for diseases of the liver – medical professionals recommend that both men and women maintain some alcohol free days each week. Alcohol is measured in units where one unit is equal to half a pint of normal strength lager, a small glass of wine or a single measure of spirits. The recommended alcohol consumption for men and women is as follows -

  • No more than four units of alcohol, or two pints of normal strength lager, for men
  • No more than three units of alcohol, one and a half pints of normal strength lager, for women

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