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World Health Day: Liver Disease On Rise, Alarming Factors

Patients with liver disease may not have any symptoms or discomfort, therefore, an early visit to a liver specialist is helpful. Most patients with liver disease, including liver cancer can be offered very good and often curative treatments despite advanced stages of their liver disease.

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Today is World Health Day and it is dedicated to throwing light on the rising health issues. The significance of the day is to make people aware of their right to health. Not only is COVID-19 at the center stage these days but liver diseases too.

There are several liver diseases that are increasingly becoming more common in the population and the pattern of liver disease is changing. In the past we used to have a lot of liver diseases due to the viral infections caused by Hepatitis A, E, B, and C. Hepatitis A and Hepatitis E cause acute viral hepatitis. These infections generally resolve spontaneously in a few weeks, but may occasionally cause a severe condition called as acute liver failure, requiring an emergency liver transplant. These are more common in the monsoon, as they spread by contamination of food and water.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C infections cause a chronic liver disease that slowly damages the liver, over many years, eventually causing irreversible condition called as liver cirrhosis. Both these infections may spread by unsafe intercourse with an infected person, contaminated blood transfusions or syringes or needles. Recently very good medicines are available to control Hepatitis B and cure Hepatitis C in most patients.  While in the past both hepatitis B and C most commonly caused liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. While in the past they were the most common type of liver diseases requiring a transplant, when diagnosed timely, it is becoming increasingly easy to treat both these with medicines alone.

Although viral hepatitis patients requiring a transplant is decreasing, lifestyle liver diseases have been increasing at an alarming rate in society. Alcoholic liver disease constitutes almost 15-20% of patients requiring a liver transplant, from, less than 10% in the past. The worrying pattern is its incidence in younger patients probably because of increasing prevalence and drinking pattern of alcohol consumption in them. It can cause an acute disease called as alcoholic hepatitis or more indolent course to liver cirrhosis. Stopping alcohol completely under guidance of a psychologist, physiatrist or de-addiction specialist and close monitoring of liver disease under guidance of a liver specialist is essential to recovery from this situation.

The second type of liver disease is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis (NASH). Fatty liver disease usually happens with people who have obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol or others. Patients with NAFLD / NASH may have no symptoms and usually are diagnosed on ultrasound scanning. About 20% of the population already has fatty liver disease. Once somebody develops fatty liver disease, it should not be ignored, it should be taken seriously, further tests performed, changes in lifestyle instituted and strict control of weight, diabetes and cholesterol achieved under the guidance of a liver specialist. Once fatty liver itself progresses to irreversible stage i.e. cirrhosis, then it is more difficult to treat. It may further get progress to liver failure with complications such as severe jaundice, kidney failure, fluid buildup in the abdomen, coma, blood vomiting and liver cancer.

For prevention of liver disease, the following measures should be taken:

  • Avoid contaminated water or food, especially during monsoons
  • Never reuse syringes or needles for injections
  • Avoid unprotected sexual intercourse, with a person whose infection status is either unknown or positive for hepatitis
  • Any alcohol consumption should be in moderation only
  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle with good control of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and others
  • Do not ignore fatty liver, consult a liver specialist
  • Do not ignore signs of liver disease, such as any jaundice, ascites (fluid build-up in the belly), persistently low platelet counts and others

Patients with liver disease may not have any symptoms or discomfort, therefore, an early visit to a liver specialist is helpful. Most patients with liver disease, including liver cancer can be offered very good and often curative treatments despite advanced stages of their liver disease.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.


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World Health Day 2021 World health Day

Dr. Ravi Mohanka

Head of Department of Liver Transplant and Hepato-Biliary Surgery at Global Hospitals, Mumbai.

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