Love your liver and get it checked out

SCAN Priya Mistry has her liver scanned by consultant hepatologist Dr Andrew Fowell, using a new Fibroscan machine at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. Picture: Allan Hutchings (1382-776)
SCAN Priya Mistry has her liver scanned by consultant hepatologist Dr Andrew Fowell, using a new Fibroscan machine at Queen Alexandra Hospital, Cosham. Picture: Allan Hutchings (1382-776)
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As I lay waiting anxiously on the bed, I started to count all the innocent drinks and snacks I’d had, which could now come back and haunt me.

I was a guinea pig for consultants and nurses at Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, to try out a new machine, which checks for a healthy liver.

The Fibroscan checks how wobbly the liver is by sending out a small flick and monitoring the waves as it travels through the organ.

The more wobbly the liver, the healthier it is. The procedure was completely painless and over in about 10 minutes.

During the training session, Andrew Fowell, consultant hepatologist at QA, reassured me that all I would feel was a small flick on my side, and the waves would be recorded.

Any nerves I had were put at ease and staff were extremely professional.

January is Love Your Liver month, and people are being urged to get their liver tested to spot any early signs of disease.

Richard Aspinall, consultant hepatologist at QA, says: ‘There are three common causes in Portsmouth of liver disease: alcohol, fatty liver disease and either hepatitis B or hepatitis C infections.

‘There’s about 20,000 people in the hospital’s catchment area of 60,000 people that drink to potentially harmful levels.

‘That’s to say they drink enough to cause substantial damage to the liver.

‘Fatty liver disease will strike because of obesity or for people that have Type 2 diabetes.

‘To put that in context, about one in five adults locally with obesity will have a fatty liver.

‘And about 10 per cent of those with the disease will go on to have cirrhosis.

‘What we’re seeing an increase of is what he call Non-Alcohol Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).

‘If you look at my patients now, most will have problems because of alcohol and drinking too much for 10 to 15 years.

‘Now we’re beginning to see an increase in NAFLD, which is a relatively new thing.’

At £70,000 the Fibroscan is able to pick up how badly a liver is damaged, without any injections or surgical procedures. The one used on me is on loan and QA is hoping to have its own soon. Mr Fowell has taken on the business case of getting the machine.

So far two-thirds of the money has been donated by the League of Friends in QA and St Mary’s Community Health Campus.

‘Liver disease is something that is reversible if caught early enough and at the right time,’ adds Mr Aspinall.

‘Simple lifestyle and diet changes help, but we need to pick up on it first.

‘When you diagnose someone with liver disease there are two things you want to know.

‘You want to know what liver condition they have got and how bad it is. With the Fibroscan, it tells you how bad it is, but not what is causing it.

‘There would still need to be an ultrasound to give a diagnosis, but the scanner will tell you if there is any damage or not.

‘It’s a great way of monitoring patients and is about 80 per cent accurate. The great thing about the liver is that it’s the only organ that can heal itself. So if someone has an operation and has a part removed – let’s say a tumour – in about three months it will grow back again.

‘Things like excessive drinking is like an ongoing injury and you’re not giving your liver a chance to heal.

‘So for a long time you won’t notice the effects, but then all of a sudden when the scarring becomes severe, you get symptoms like vomiting blood quickly and that can be a shock.

‘We are looking forward to getting the Fibroscan machine.’

what to look out for if you’re worried about liver disease

SYMPTOMS of liver disease can be quite vague.

Richard Aspinall, consultant hepatologist at QA, said: ‘It can be as vague as a pain in the tummy, feeling tired or getting itchy.’

Alongside excessive eating and drinking, people with hepatitis B and C can develop liver disease.

Hepatitis C is largely through use of needles and can be from using drugs or getting a tattoo done with an incorrectly-sterilised needle.

There are no symptoms, so people can go 10 years or so without realising it.

Hepatitis B is passed on through birth. It is prevalent in area like China, Africa and South America.

‘We would encourage people from these backgrounds to get checked,’ added Mr Aspinall.

‘Both conditions can be cured or controlled by drugs.’

QA runs a five-day clinic for treating hepatitis B and C.

It also has outreach clinics in Fareham, Havant and the St Mary’s Community Health Campus, in Milton, Portsmouth.

You can book an appointment to get tested from your GP.

What is love youR liver all about?

JANUARY is Love Your Liver Month.

It is a national awareness campaign co-ordinated by the British Liver Trust - the UK charity for adults with liver conditions.

It is a national charity that funds medical research, provides vital support for those living with a liver condition and raises public awareness to prevent liver disease happening in the first place.

The Love Your Liver roadshow is stopping off in Portsmouth today.

People can go to the Morrisons supermarket, in Victory Retail Park, and speak to specialists and get their liver tested free.

The roadshow is on site until 4pm.

It is sponsored by Fibroscan which is a non-invasive imaging scan that evaluates the degree of liver stiffness, or scarring, known as fibrosis.

Queen Alexandra Hospital, in Cosham, is raising the £70,000 needed to buy the piece of equipment.

To find out more, call 0800 652 7330 or visit