UK faces a liver disease ‘ticking time bomb’ fuelled by rising rates of obesity

Posted on: 10th June 2021

Today is International NASH Day and we’re calling for greater awareness of this silent yet serious form of fatty liver disease.

NASH (non-alcohol related steatohepatitis) is a form of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which, if left untreated, can sometimes lead to liver failure, liver cancer and liver transplantation. Obesity is a risk factor for the condition and it is difficult to diagnose as there are often no symptoms in the early stages.

“The UK is facing a liver disease crisis”

In 2020, one million adults were reported to have been admitted to hospital with obesity-related conditions.[1]

Pamela Healy OBE, Chief Executive at the British Liver Trust, says: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.  If the rising levels of obesity that are fuelling this are not addressed, the numbers with NAFLD 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 disease 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.”

About non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

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

  1. Simple fatty liver (steatosis). This is when fat starts to build in the liver.
  2. NASH (non-alcohol related steatohepatitis). Fat builds up and causes inflammation.
  3. Fibrosis (scarring of the liver). Damage progresses and causes lasting scars on the liver.
  4. Cirrhosis. This leads to an increased risk of life-threatening liver failure and liver cancer. At this stage, damage to the liver is permanent and cannot be repaired.

Around one in three people in the UK have early-stage NAFLD[2], which can be slowed or reversed if they make changes to their lifestyle. However, if not addressed, the condition 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.”

NAFLD and NASH resources

You can find lots of information about NAFLD on our website, including our updated Diet and Liver Disease booklet and Treating NAFLD with a healthy diet and physical activity leaflet. You can also test your knowledge of NAFLD in our online quiz.

References

[1] Obesity put a record one million people in hospital in England last year, NHS data shows | Daily Mail Online

[2] Statistics - British Liver Trust

 

 

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