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Liver disease

The liver can be affected by a number of conditions including obesity, overuse of alcohol, fatty liver disease and viruses such as hepatitis Ahepatitis B, and hepatitis C. Left untreated and/or unmanaged, these conditions can lead to liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.

We can’t live without a functioning liver. Almost all cells and tissues in the body depend on it, and when something goes wrong with the liver, it can have a serious effect on almost every other organ we have.

What are the symptoms of liver disease?

Many people with liver disease have no symptoms and problems may only be found through routine blood tests. If symptoms are present they can include:

  • Tiredness - Fatigue is a common complaint for those with liver disease. People may feel extremely weak and tired, even if their liver disease is mild.

  • Sore tummy - Nausea and vomiting are common symptoms of liver disease. You may also have abdominal pain, especially on the lower right side of your ribs.    

  • Bruising and bleeding - The liver helps the blood clot. People with advanced liver disease tend to bruise easily and take longer to stop bleeding after injury.

  • Swelling - A healthy liver maintains the fluid balance in the body. If yours isn’t working properly, you may notice swelling in your ankles, feet, legs or abdomen due to excess fluid.

  • Lack of appetite - People with advanced liver disease may have little or no appetite.

  • Yellow tones - f the liver is severely damaged, a yellow compound called bilirubin will accumulate. This leads to jaundice, which makes skin, mucous membranes and the whites of your eyes turn yellow.  

It’s recommended you make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs or symptoms that worry you. Seek immediate medical attention if you have abdominal pain that is so severe you can't keep still.

Am I at risk?

Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese 

  • Alcohol intake 

  • Having a diet rich in processed foods and refined carbohydrates (sugars and refined grains with no bran, fibre and nutrients e.g. white bread and flour, pasta, sweet desserts and some breakfast cereals)

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD)

  • Belonging to a specific ethnic group (fatty liver disease, for example, is more common in Indians, Chinese, Maori and Pacific Islanders). 

If you have hepatitis B, the best support for your liver comes from your kitchen.

* Video courtesy of Paul Desmond, CEO of the Hepatitis B Free Foundation in the UK.

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Long-term monitoring

Regular monitoring is important to assess liver health. Blood tests can detect liver disease. If there is liver damage your GP can refer you to your local gastroenterology service for further assessment. If you think you have a liver condition or have questions, please contact us or talk to your GP.


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