Experts have raised concerns that fatty liver disease, while mostly preventable, will overtake heart disease as one of the biggest causes of premature death within the next few years.
Fatty liver disease can strike without warning, but little is known about the condition which one in three Brits are in the early stages of developing. There are some symptoms of the disease to look out for, and now brain fog, forgetfulness and poor concentration are some of the symptoms that could indicate a measure of risk.
According to the Fatty Liver Foundation, Hepatic Encephalopathy (HE), is a disruption of brain function that is a serious complication of liver disease.
A statement from the foundation said: “If the liver is not removing ammonia from the blood because it has been damaged, the result is a build-up of toxins in the bloodstream that disrupt normal functions and can lead to confusion, coma and death.”
It added that maybe we should question how many people are suffering from fatty liver disease rather than a mental illness that can be assumed when odd behaviour is witnessed in patients.
“More broadly, what about people who have just a little rogue ammonia?” The foundation asked. “How many of us dismiss failures of memory or confusion to just an ageing brain when it is really a bit of toxic poisoning?”
HE is a decline of the brain function that occurs as a result of severe liver disease, and can be acute (short-term) or chronic (long term). In some cases, those with HE may become unresponsive and slip into a coma.
Symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy
- Difficulty thinking
- Personality changes
- Poor concentration
- Problems with handwriting or loss of other small hand movements
- Poor judgment
- A musty or sweet breath odour
How to check if you have fatty liver disease
If you experience any symptoms such as brain fog, poor judgement or forgetfulness, it is critical to speak to your GP. Symptoms experienced alongside your medical history can sometimes be enough to diagnose HE.
A liver function test will check for raised enzyme levels, which if detected normally indicates there is stress on the liver which could indicate a risk of fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease risk factors
British Liver Trust chief executive officer Pamela Healy says the UK is facing a liver disease epidemic, as 30 years ago it was rare for people in their 20s to be found in liver treatment units, but it has become common for people that young to die from cirrhosis of the liver.
“The liver is just as vital an organ as the heart, but people often fail to appreciate the importance of keeping it healthy. There are also lots of myths surrounding it,” she said.
“For example, many people believe you need to be an alcoholic to develop liver disease, whereas one in five of us are drinking at a level that puts our lives at risk. Many also fail to realise that being overweight is a major risk factor.”
She added that is vital that people of all ages are alerted to the risk factors of fatty liver disease so that can make simple yet informed lifestyle changes.
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