‘Silent population of liver disease sufferers’: stark warning for drinkers as charity campaign is launched

Spire Southampton Hospital has declared its support for the Dry January campaign launched by the Alcohol Concern charity last week, and urged people not to stop at just one month.

Dr Mark Wright, a specialist in liver related problems, said, “Cutting out or drastically reducing your alcohol intake is certainly a good idea, and for long term benefits it needs to be a continual effort.

“Alcoholic liver disease is a very real risk for thousands of people who drink on a regular basis. The death rates associated to this condition have risen by more than two thirds in the last 30 years, which gives us definite cause for concern.

“The age of patients being treated for liver related problems is getting lower, and it is no longer unusual to see men and women in their twenties. However the risk for middle aged or older people is still as strong.  There is a silent population of people with liver disease out there who have not yet been diagnosed, so their drinking habits are not being addressed.”

The difficulty with alcoholic liver disease is that many people do not experience any symptoms until the condition worsens. Cirrhosis develops silently but often presents noisily with severe symptoms such as vomiting blood, jaundice abdominal swelling or even liver cancer.

The liver filters toxins from the blood, makes important proteins, regulates your cholesterol levels and helps your body to fight infection and disease. When a person drinks alcohol regularly over a sustained period of time the liver becomes damaged and cannot perform these essential functions in the same way. 

There are three different stages of alcoholic liver disease:

  • Alcohol fatty liver disease: lots of alcohol leads to fatty deposits building up on your liver. If you stop drinking and this can return to normal function over a period of months
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: the tissues of the liver become inflamed. This condition can be reversible if you stop drinking, though it may take years for liver function to return to normal and many of those affected already have cirrhosis.
  • Cirrhosis of the liver: prolonged inflammation causes scarring of the liver, also known as fibrosis, and you begin to lose function of the organ. This stage is when the life threatening complications can arise and it is not reversible, although if you stop drinking your liver can improve.

Dr Wright continued, “There is a public stereotype of binge drinkers being at risk from alcohol, but they are not the only ones to consider. People who have been drinking regularly throughout their lives, whether to excess or not, are still be susceptible.”

“Couples who share a bottle of wine a night, or friends who meet daily at their local pub for a few pints. These habits are just as dangerous over a prolonged period of time, and particularly when a person leads an unhealthy lifestyle, and carries excess weight.”

Spire Southampton Hospital are able to perform a comprehensive liver check and have access to a state of the art fibroscanner, which is an ultrasound based alternative to liver biopsy. Along with a few blood tests and details of a person’s lifestyle and the medical history of their family, any possible damage or risk can be identified and treatment arranged.

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Dr Mark Wright, Gastroenterologist at Spire Southampton Hospital

View Dr Mark Wright's profile page 

Find out more about Alcohol Concerns Dry January campaign. www.alcoholconcern.org.uk/

© Spire Healthcare Group plc (2016)