The liver is an integral organ, performing a staggering 500 roles in the human body – including fighting infections, breaking food down into energy and helping the body get rid of waste. However, the liver is at risk from a range of factors, with diet, alcohol usage, infection and even genetics triggering liver disease. These four things can each cause liver disease, and if it is not caught early enough severe damage can be caused.
Pharmacy2U’s Superintendent Pharmacist Phil Day told Express.co.uk there has been a rise in alcoholic liver disease since the coronavirus pandemic began.
Mr Day said: “Over the last 18 months deaths from alcoholic liver disease have increased by an unprecedented 21 percent, compared with a 2.9 percent increase between 2018 and 2019.
“The pandemic has shifted many towards alcohol and as social events return, heavy drinking for others could continue to rise.”
However, alcohol-related liver disease is just one of four kinds of liver disease someone may develop.
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When the liver is struggling to function, there are several symptoms
- intensely itchy skin
- yellowing of the whites of the eyes and the skin (jaundice)
- white nails
- ends of fingers become wider/thicker (clubbed fingers)
- hair loss
- swelling of the legs, ankles, feet (oedema)
- swelling of the abdomen (ascites)
- dark urine
- pale-coloured stools or very dark/black tarry stools
- frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
- easy bruising and difficulty in stopping small bleeds
- vomiting blood
- frequent muscle cramps
- right shoulder pain
- in men: enlarged breasts and shrunken testes
- in women: irregular or lack of menstrual periods
- impotence and loss of sexual desire
- dizziness and extreme fatigue (anaemia)
- shortness of breath
- very rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
- fevers with high temperature and shivers
- forgetfulness, memory loss, confusion and drowsiness
- subtle change in personality
- trembling hands
- writing becomes difficult, spidery and small
- staggering gait when walking; tendency to fall
- increased sensitivity to drugs, both medical and recreational
- increased sensitivity to alcohol
To lower your risk of liver disease you should pay close attention to your lifestyle choices.
Eating well, exercising often and reducing your alcohol usage are all key to a healthy body.
If you are struggling to cut down on alcohol, you can speak to your doctor or reach out to charities or support groups, like Alcohol Change UK (alcoholchange.org.uk).
Mr Day explained: “Drinking to excess has detrimental effects on your health. Regular episodes of binge drinking can lead to liver disease, and heart and kidney problems.
“It’s one of the most common causes of liver disease, which can lead to cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver and eventually liver failure, a life-threatening condition.
“Whilst the liver is resilient and may be capable of regenerating itself, prolonged misuse of alcohol can result in serious and sometimes permanent liver damage.
“Try to pace yourself, consider alternating your drinks with non-alcoholic ones, and be aware of how many units are in your drinks – keeping track of these can help you stay in control.
“And here’s another fact to keep you motivated: per gram, alcohol contains almost as many calories as pure fat.
“Those worried about their drinking or the drinking habits of others should speak with their GP or contact a relevant charity or support group, such as Alcohol Change UK (alcoholchange.org.uk).”