ONE in five 20-somethings have the early warning signs of serious liver disease, but have no clue – experts have warned.
They said a “ticking time-bomb”public health crisis threatens to explode, if young people don’t make changes to their unhealthy lifestyles.
Getty – Contributor Obesity is behind a rise in young people suffering early signs of serious liver disease, experts have warned
Link to obesity
More awareness is needed, and young adults must be encouraged to look out for signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, scientists at the University of Bristol said today.
The condition is caused by a build up of fat in the liver – and is linked to obesity and diabetes.
It’s the most common form of liver disease in young people and kids and cases are on the rise.
Researchers found a fifth of 24 year olds had a condition called steatosis – an early build up of fat in the liver, that’s a sign of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
They also discovered one in 40 of the youngsters studied had already developed fibrosis, a thickening or scarring of the liver.
More deaths from liver cancer
The vast number of young people affected has “major public health and economic implications”, the scientists warned, adding it could increase deaths from cardiovascular disease and liver cancer, as well as place a greater burden on an already-stretched organ donation and transplant service.
Dr Kushala Abeysekera, from Bristol Uni, said: “We were concerned to find that, at only 24 years of age, one in five had steatosis and one in 40 had evidence of fibrosis.
“The results of our study suggest greater public health awareness of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is needed in young adults in the UK.”
Dr Abeysekera, who presented the findings today at The International Liver Congress in Vienna, Austria, said theirs was the largest study to date, looking at these early warning signs in young people.
Swift change needed to avert ticking time-bomb
The team looked at The Children Of The 90s Study, which involved 4,021 adults with an average age of 24.
They excluded any heavy drinkers, leaving 3,128 scans to be examined.
A total of 76 showed signs of fibrosis, with eight of those deemed to be serious fibrosis.
Meanwhile, 680 young adults were found to have steatosis – a sign of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – with just under half (331) staged as severe.
Dr Abeysekera’s team said they found a link between high BMI (body mass index) and those suffering fibrosis and liver damage – suggesting obesity is to blame in many cases.
Prof Philip Newsome, of the European Association for the Study of the Liver, said: “These data highlight the impact of the obesogenic environment and, in particular, its role in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in a much younger sector of the population.
“This requires swift changes in public policy if we are to diffuse the ticking time-bomb of obesity and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.”
So… how can you tell if you are affected?
The tricky thing is, it can be hard to spot the signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease because it often doesn’t present any symptoms.
When it does, they include:
feeling tired all the time
pain in the right upper abdomen
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Other possible signs include:
stomach swelling or bloating
enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface
enlarged breasts or moobs in men
yellowing of the skin and eyes, also known as jaundice
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