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There are over 100 types of liver disease affecting at least 2 million people in the UK, including alcoholic liver disease, cirrhosis and hepatitis. While some liver problems are temporary and go away on their own, others can get progressively worse and result in serious complications.
What’s more, liver problems may be more common than you think. The British Liver Trust assessed the liver health of nearly 500 people in January 2013 and advised over 20 per cent to visit a healthcare professional and request a liver function test.
Signs and symptoms
Some of the signs and symptoms associated with liver problems include:
- discoloured skin and eyes that appear yellowish
- abdominal tenderness, pain and swelling, particularly to the upper right hand side
- itchy skin that doesn't seem to go away
- dark urine
- pale stools
- bloody or tar-coloured stools
- chronic fatigue
- loss of appetite
- unexplained flu-like symptoms.
Remember that liver disease is most treatable in its early stages, yet this is the time when you are least likely to experience symptoms so aim to get your liver function checked as part of your annual health check, whether or not you have symptoms.
If you suspect you have a liver problem, it is important to seek medical help as soon as possible. As always though, prevention is better than cure and there are several things you can do to look after your liver. The great thing about the three simple steps recommended by the British Liver Trust is that following them will provide a lot of other noticeable health benefits, including weight loss and improved energy levels.
Your liver performs over 500 vital functions for your body. Too much alcohol can cause it serious and lasting damage. Love Your Liver by:
- drinking within safe limits (2 to 3 units per day for women and 3 to 4 units per day for men)
- taking three days off alcohol every week to give your liver a chance to repair itself
- avoiding alcohol if you are pregnant or trying to conceive.
Your liver processes most of the nutrients and fats in the food you eat. If you are overweight you increase your risk of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease which over time can cause lasting liver damage. Help your liver to work properly by:
- eating a healthy balanced diet and drinking plenty of water
- eating plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, reducing portion sizes and cutting down on your fat and sugar intake
- taking some regular exercise – aim for a total of 30 minutes a day if you can.
Help yourself by swapping snacks for a healthier alternative like mixed nuts or fruit and finding an exercise that you enjoy as this will help you to keep motivated (eg walking, cycling, swimming, dancing).
Diet and exercise have the best effect on your liver health – making long term changes that you can keep up is better than losing weight quickly.
Blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis B and C can cause permanent liver damage and increase the risk of liver cancer. Hepatitis A and E are spread by faecal-oral transmission (usually through contaminated food or water). Avoid these viruses by:
- getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and B when travelling abroad (there is no vaccine for hepatitis C or E)
- never sharing personal items like toothbrushes, razors, nail scissors or tweezers
- practising safer sex
- using only licensed tattoo and piercing parlours and making sure all equipment used has been sterilised
- always using clean needles, syringes and other equipment if using drugs
- if you feel you may have been at risk of contracting viral hepatitis at any time then visit your GP and get tested. If you had a blood transfusion before 1991 for any reason then the blood may not have been screened for viral hepatitis – visit your GP for a blood test.