Monday, 5 Dec 2022

Liver disease: The ‘overwhelming’ sign that can appear daily – affects 50% of patients

Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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Alcohol-related liver disease, or ARLD, is triggered by excess alcohol intake. There are three main stages of this condition that range in severity and symptoms. One sign that could raise suspicion can crop up in your daily life as fatigue.

Dr Deborah Lee from Dr Fox Online Pharmacy said: “Fatigue is the most common symptom in patients with liver disease – whatever the cause, affecting around 50 percent of patients.”

She explained that it’s important to differentiate between tiredness and fatigue. While they might be used as synonyms, there’s a difference.

Dr Lee said: “We all know what it feels like to have a busy day and feel tired and ready for bed, but fatigue is different. 

“Fatigue is an overwhelming exhaustion.

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“It’s a type of tiredness that emanates from within the central nervous system, which may be so debilitating, it can be hard to even raise your head off the pillow.”

This sign is also considered to be one of the “early” symptoms of alcohol-related liver disease, according to the British Liver Trust.

However, it can also point to various liver problems. 

Dr Lee said: “Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hepatitis, including alcohol-related hepatitis (ARLD), and viral hepatitis, and in advanced liver disease, due to cirrhosis and liver failure.

“It affects both mental and physical functions, such that it can be very hard to cope with everyday life.”

Another important thing to remember is that the degree of your fatigue isn’t necessarily dependent on the severity of your liver damage.

The expert shared that those with mild hepatitis may have severe fatigue while those with severe hepatitis may only struggle with mild fatigue – “there is no rhyme or reason”. 

She added: “The fatigue can also be persistent, or fluctuating.”

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Apart from fatigue, the NHS lists various other signs that could be pointing to alcohol-related liver disease.

The tell-tale symptoms include:

  • Feeling sick
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Yellowing of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Swelling in the ankles and tummy
  • Confusion or drowsiness
  • Vomiting blood or passing blood in your stools.

Dr Lee recommended getting a liver function test if you struggle with the symptoms of ARLD.

She said: “If liver enzymes are raised, this needs further investigation.”

It’s also important to remember that many patients might not have any symptoms, making the condition difficult to identify.

“[Around] 75percent of patients who will eventually die from cirrhosis – which occurs in the natural progression from hepatitis – have no idea they even have liver disease,” said Dr Lee.

The condition often only gets picked up when you’re being tested for other problems.

That’s why the NHS recommends telling your GP if you regularly drink alcohol to excess.

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