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UK Faces a Liver Disease ‘Ticking Time Bomb’ Fuelled by Rising Rates of Obesity

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The British Liver Trust is calling for greater awareness of a silent yet serious form of fatty liver disease, non-alcohol related steatohepatitis (NASH), as one million adults were reported to have been admitted to hospital with obesity-related conditions in 2020.

This call for action coincides with today’s International NASH Day when organisations and people around the world unite to raise awareness of the urgent need for prevention, detection, and treatment of NASH. 

NASH is a form of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that can lead to liver failure, liver cancer, and liver transplantation. The disease is difficult to diagnose as there are often no symptoms in the early stages.

‘The UK is facing a liver disease crisis, and the alarming reports of an increase in obesity-related hospital admissions in 2020 should act as a warning of the ticking time bomb we are facing if action is not taken,’ says Pamela Healy OBE, chief executive at the British Liver Trust. ‘If the rising levels of obesity that are fuelling this are not addressed, the numbers with non-alcohol related fatty liver disease will continue to rise.

‘In less than 50 years, deaths from liver disease in those aged 64 and under have increased by more than 400%, whilst death rates for other major diseases including diabetes, respiratory, heart disease, and most cancers have declined. A major reason for this is the obesity epidemic and we urgently need the Government to address this.’

The very early stage of NAFLD, or simple fatty liver disease (steatosis), is a largely harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells that may only be diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.  

It is believed that one in three people in the UK have early-stage NAFLD, which can be slowed or reversed if lifestyle changes are made. However, if not addressed, it can progress to NASH, then fibrosis and cirrhosis. At this point the damage is permanent, there are limited options for treatment, and for some only a liver transplant will save their life.

Professor Stephen Ryder, a leading hepatologist and medical advisor to the British Liver Trust said: ‘Greater awareness of the risk factors of fatty liver disease is crucial. We also need patients to have much better access to non-invasive diagnostic tools to help to catch people earlier in their disease, so they can make lifestyle changes or seek other treatments that will help them to prevent further damage and improve the health of their liver.

‘If you are diagnosed with NAFLD, losing weight and eating a healthy diet is also the first line of treatment,’ Professor Ryder explains. ‘There is good evidence that losing 10% of body weight can control and, in some cases, reverse the condition.’

You can get a snapshot of your liver health by taking the British Liver Trust’s online liver health screener on their website.

For more information about NAFLD and NASH, visit Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – British Liver Trust.

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