Chief Executive, British Liver Trust
In the last 50 years there have been enormous improvements in healthcare, yet the number of people dying from liver disease has increased by 400%.
The number of people dying from liver disease is a stark contrast to other major killer diseases, such as heart disease and cancer, in which the number of deaths have either remained stable or decreased.
Tackling delays in diagnosis
A major reason for this increase is late diagnosis. Three quarters of people with advanced liver disease are only diagnosed after an emergency hospital admission at a point when it is too late for effective treatment or intervention. A major reason for this is that liver disease develops silently and there are usually no symptoms in the early stages.
We therefore need to make early diagnosis routine by testing those who are at high risk. People at risk include those who are overweight, those with type 2 diabetes, men who regularly drink more than 50 units per week and women who drink more than 35 units.
If you look after your liver, then your liver will look after you as it has the amazing ability to regenerate.
Diagnostic support needed for GPs
Primary care is a key setting where improvement in the detection and management of liver disease is required. However, our research shows that the majority of areas in the UK do not have an effective pathway in place to diagnose liver disease in primary care. GPs need more support in making the diagnosis.
GPs need the guidelines and tools to enable them to proactively assess a person’s risk of liver disease and arrange necessary investigations or interventions. If liver disease is suspected, then the patient should be referred to a specialist team for further investigation.
Prevention is key
The liver is the body’s factory, processing everything we eat and drink. If you look after your liver, then your liver will look after you as it has the amazing ability to regenerate.
While the liver works hard and can take a lot of abuse, it is like an elastic band – it can only stretch so far before it breaks. It is estimated that 90% of liver disease is linked to alcohol misuse, being overweight and viral hepatitis.
These are three simple steps to improve your liver health:
- Drink within recommended limits (no more than 14 units per week on a regular basis) and have three consecutive days off alcohol every week.
- Eat a healthy diet and take plenty of exercise.
- Know the risk factors for viral hepatitis and get tested or vaccinated if you are at risk.