The liver is an organ that sits just under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen. The liver is the second largest organ in the body and it performs hundreds of complex functions such as fighting infections and illness, removing toxins, such as alcohol, from the body, controlling cholesterol levels and releasing bile, a liquid that breaks down fats and aids digestion.
Liver disease is one of the top five causes of premature death in United Kingdom. Compared to most European Union countries where liver disease related deaths are reducing, statistics by Public Health England, show deaths from liver disease is on the increase in the country.
The disease does not usually cause any obvious signs or symptoms until when it reaches a fairly advanced stage, and the liver is damaged. However, signs and symptoms of liver disease include; yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), abdominal pain and swelling, itchy skin, swelling in ankles and legs, nausea and vomiting, dark urine, pale stool, chronic fatigue, loss of appetite and a tendency to bruise easily.
Three of the main causes of liver disease are obesity, undiagnosed hepatitis infection and alcohol misuse.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – is caused by a build-up of fat within liver cells, usually seen in overweight people or those who are obese.
Alcohol-related liver disease – where the liver is damaged after years of alcohol misuse, this can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
Hepatitis – which is inflammation (swelling) of the liver caused by a viral infection or exposure to harmful substances such as alcohol.
Factors that may increase your risk of liver disease include:
- Heavy alcohol use
- Injecting drugs using shared needles
- Tattoos or body piercings
- Blood transfusion (before 1992)
- Exposure to other people’s blood and body fluids
- Engaging in unprotected sex
- Exposure to certain chemicals or toxins
The following are ways of preventing liver disease from developing:
Reduce alcohol intake: For healthy adults, that means having up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men. Heavy or high-risk drinking is defined as having more than eight drinks a week for women and more than fifteen drinks a week for men.
Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Get vaccinated: If you are at increased risk of contracting hepatitis or if you have already been infected with any form of the hepatitis virus, it is advisable to talk to your doctor about getting the hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccines.
Use medications wisely. Take prescription and non-prescription drugs only when needed and only in recommended doses. Do not ever mix medications and alcohol. Seek medical advice from your doctor before mixing herbal supplements with prescription or non-prescription drugs.
Avoid direct contact with other people’s blood and body fluids. Hepatitis viruses can be spread by accidental needle sticks or improper clean-up of blood or body fluids. It is therefore advisable that PPEs should be used whenever there is going to be any form of contact with another person’s blood or other bodily fluids.