An estimated 4.5 million people in the U.S. have chronic liver disease (CLD). More people aged 25-54 die from this disease and cirrhosis of the liver than from diabetes or stroke. And unfortunately, liver disease is on the rise. Mortality from chronic liver disease associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is projected to nearly triple by 2030.
Chronic liver disease and cirrhosis is a growing problem in the United States that may lead to increases in mortality and other negative outcomes for patients who suffer from it. Patients and their health care providers need to be aware of common signs and symptoms and test for the disease as appropriate.
While CLD may be common, the disease itself — along with its complications — is often not well understood by many.
Here are some facts you should know about liver disease, and symptoms to be aware of.
What is liver disease?
While many people may identify alcoholism as the only cause of liver disease, few are aware that there are other causes that can affect liver health. Chronic liver disease can lead to liver damage, liver scarring or even liver failure. Living with liver disease for a long time can lead to cirrhosis, a severe form of liver disease, in which scar tissue replaces healthy tissue. As cirrhosis worsens, the liver has less healthy tissue to perform its function.
Why do we need our livers?
A healthy liver is needed to help your body process food and nutrients into energy, and to clean the blood by removing harmful toxins. When the cirrhosis gets worse and the liver can no longer remove toxins from the blood like a healthy liver can, symptoms of hepatic encephalopathy (HE) may develop.
What are symptoms of HE?
The buildup of toxins in the blood that causes HE can reduce brain function. While a diagnosis of HE can be devastating, it is possible for patients to manage HE with their health care provider.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis are on the rise, and up to 80% of those with cirrhosis will develop some form of HE.
Both chronic liver disease and hepatic encephalopathy can be difficult to diagnose.
For those who have developed HE, diagnosis can be difficult, as many of the symptoms may present as other illnesses or conditions. HE can present itself both physically and mentally, often starting out slowly — and at times might even go unnoticed by patients as well as families and friends. Symptoms may vary for each person, but can include:
- Mental symptoms: Forgetfulness, confusion, poor judgment, not knowing where you are or where you are going or personality changes.
- Physical symptoms: Changes in sleep pattern, tremors or shaking of hands or arms, slowed or sluggish movement, slurred speech and changes in breath odor. In the most severe form of HE, people can become unconscious and enter a coma.
The mental symptoms in particular may be mistaken for other conditions, leading to a delay in correct diagnosis. Early detection and diagnosis of chronic liver disease and HE help patients to receive better care sooner.
To learn more about chronic liver disease and hepatic encephalopathy, visit www.UnderstandingHE.com.