Watch your liver even if you don’t drink: cirrhosis is a risk for non-alcoholics

Liver disease often develops silently, virtually asymptomatic, or confused with other common conditions until the advanced stages.

“Cycling, for me, is more than a hobby – it’s taking control of my life,” says Hemant, 56 (name changed). So when the diagnosis of cirrhosis of the liver came like a thunderclap in his life and made it difficult to pursue his favorite outdoor activity, he felt broken. But even more difficult news was coming, as doctors thoughtfully advised Hemant that he might soon need a liver transplant, even to survive.

For Hemant, who had never touched a drop of alcohol in his life, this diagnosis came as a terrible shock. It is commonly accepted that major liver diseases only affect people who abuse alcohol. However, doctors point out that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) leading to cirrhosis is a growing phenomenon among middle-class Indian men and women, even those who don’t drink. “We are concerned to see data emerging from our group of hospitals in Kauvery in southern India in recent times on younger people with cirrhosis of the liver. The average age of cirrhosis patients has now fallen into their 40s and 50s,” says Dr. Elankumaran K, Senior Consultant Hepatobiliary Surgeon and Liver Transplant Specialist, Kauvery Hospital, Chennai.

What is cirrhosis of the liver?

Liver cirrhosis is an advanced liver disease in which severe damage to the liver has resulted in the formation of scar tissue replacing healthy liver cells. In cirrhosis, so many healthy cells are so damaged over time, and beyond repair, that the liver cannot function normally. The organ would eventually fail terminally, threatening life.

The liver is the body’s detoxification center and also has significant regenerative abilities, says Dr. Kumaragurubaran, Consultant Hepatologist at Kauvery Hospital, Tiruchirapalli. “Unlike other organs in the body, with opportunity and time, the liver tends to repair itself. But cirrhosis occurs when the liver is no longer able to repair itself.

Although excessive alcohol consumption and diseases such as hepatitis B and hepatitis C are common causes of cirrhosis, unhealthy lifestyles can also lead to this condition. Patients who are obese or have conditions such as diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or metabolic syndrome are at risk of developing NAFLD, which can lead to cirrhosis over time in some patients . This applies universally to both men and women.

No treatment can reverse cirrhosis of the liver after it appears, but medication and lifestyle changes can stop the progression of symptoms and help manage the disease if caught early. If the cirrhosis progresses too far, however, a liver transplant is the only option available to patients.

Why should you worry?

Described by friends and family as fun-loving, Hemant has always had an affinity for food, loving to dig into ice cream and the like. Although Hemant developed symptoms such as bloating or discomfort around his stomach, this never seemed to be cause for concern and was dismissed as the result of something he had eaten.

Doctors worry that increasingly sedentary lifestyles are contributing to the growing risk of liver disease. “Yes, Hemant had an easy lifestyle with a diet that contributed to his illness. But many of us today have a lifestyle like his,” says Dr. Elankumaran K, the senior consultant hepatobiliary surgeon who performed Hemant’s liver transplant.

Complicating matters is that NAFLD cirrhosis has a slow progression and is often virtually asymptomatic until the advanced stages. And even if there are symptoms, they can often be confused with several other common conditions. “Cirrhosis is not something that happens overnight. Fibrosis (scarring) of liver cells builds up over years before the disease starts showing symptoms. patients ignore the symptoms until they reach a critical point,” says Dr. Kavya Dendukuri, Consultant Hepatologist, Kauvery Hospital, Chennai.

Need for specialized liver care

Given the silent nature of cirrhosis and people’s lack of awareness, doctors say patients often arrive at a very late stage when a transplant is the only option. However, this raises several challenges of its own.

Hemant, for example, spent 8 months on the waiting list for a cadaver liver donor, before finally settling for a living donation from his adult daughter. This doubled his anxiety, as he worried about both his own recovery and the risk his daughter would face for him.

Transplant procedures can be tricky because it is important to ensure that the patient’s body does not reject the donated organ or develop an infection that could seriously compromise recovery.

That’s why, for patients like Hemant, who seek specialist care and integrated care, units like Kauvery Hospitals’ Liver Transplant Centers have been vital. “We provide patients with 360-degree, 24/7 liver care. Through our rigorous protocols, state-of-the-art technology, a highly skilled surgical team and equally skilled support staff , our success rates have been consistently high,” says Dr. Kumaragurubaran.

What you can do to prevent liver disease:

Have a healthy diet: Doctors recommend a balanced diet with a healthy mix of protein, fiber, carbohydrates, and low levels of fat. In particular, higher levels of green leafy vegetables for fiber, foods that help reduce inflammation like fish and nuts, and replacing unhealthy fats and refined carbohydrates with healthy fats and more carbohydrates. complexes are useful. Avoiding or minimizing alcohol is also helpful.

Regular exercise: The benefits of exercise for the body are considerable even when there is no weight loss. Doctors recommend at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.

· Losing weight: Over time, weight loss contributes significantly to reversing fat deposition in the liver and improving liver health in the early stages of liver disease. Maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI) and waist-to-hip ratio (less than one) is very helpful for prevention. Abdominal obesity is becoming more and more common, especially in South India, more in men than in women. The fat you see around the abdomen is both inside and outside the abdomen and relentlessly damages the intra-abdominal organs like the liver and leads to the troublesome metabolic syndrome, that is- i.e. a collection of conditions that occur together, increasing your risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. These conditions include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels.

· Stop smoking: Studies have shown that smoking helps increase liver inflammation and scarring, independent of other factors such as alcohol consumption. Quitting smoking also helps minimize cardiovascular complications.

This article was published by TNM Brand Studio in association with Kauvery Hospital.

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