'It's a ticking timebomb': NHS set for liver disease crisis

The condition, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is mainly caused by obesity and Type 2 diabetes and is on the rise in the UK.

“It is a huge problem and the biggest indicator for having NAFLD is being overweight,” said Vanessa Hebditch, a director of the British Liver Trust.

“With almost one third of adults and 38 per cent of children overweight, the estimate is it will have overtaken alcohol as the leading cause of liver disease by 2020. It has already happened in the US.”

The condition starts with fatty cells increasing around the liver which can progress to inflammation and scarring, known as cirrhosis of the liver.

Around 20 per cent of the population is thought to have NAFLD, while five per cent have developed advanced stages of the condition.

"Having a bit of a fatty liver is a warning sign,” said Mrs Hebditch.

“If you change your diet, reduce your weight and don’t smoke you have a good chance of turning it around.

“Liver disease is a timebomb and in 50 years, little more than a generation, figures have risen 400 per cent. The problem is there are often no real symptoms and 75 per cent of conditions are diagnosed in hospital settings when it is at an advanced stage.

“Over the last decade we have also seen a 10-fold increase in the number of adults with NAFLD who need transplants.” 

The British Liver Trust wants to see more scanning tests being made available across the NHS to catch the condition early.

The warning comes as an investigation revealed a 52 per cent jump in NHS diabetes medication prescriptions, from 25 million in 2010/11 to 38.5 million in 2016/17.

Benjamin Caller, of analytics database firm Exasol, which uncovered the figures, said: “Type 2 diabetes is an enormous concern for society.”

Health expert Andrea Cameron, of Abertay University, Dundee, said: “Lifestyle types of disease arising from being sedentary are on the increase and if we don’t take action, with the NHS already creaking at the edges, how is the system going to cope? There is no magic pill.”

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