Chronic liver disease risk higher in people with diabetes or obesity

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A recent study from QIMR Berghofer has raised concerns about the need for early detection and monitoring of liver problems in people with diabetes and obesity.

As more Australians grapple with these health issues, a growing number are being diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), some as young as their 20s and 30s.

NAFLD occurs when the liver accumulates excess fat, potentially harming its function and causing liver scarring or fibrosis.

In severe cases, it can lead to liver cancer. Currently, around 5 million Australians have NAFLD, and this number is projected to reach 7 million by 2030.

The Connection Between Diabetes, Obesity, and Liver Issues

People with diabetes and obesity are at particular risk of developing liver complications.

Diabetes, which affects 1 in 20 Australians, can heighten the chances of severe health problems linked to liver fibrosis. It is essential to keep a close eye on these individuals through regular check-ups.

Key Insights from the Study

The study examined data from over 8,000 Queensland residents aged 20 and older who were hospitalized between 2009 and 2018 for either NAFLD or its more severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

The findings highlighted alarming rates of liver-related issues in patients with NAFLD and diabetes:

Rapid Progression: Shockingly, 37% of individuals with both NAFLD and diabetes experienced liver-related complications within a decade.

Diabetes Alone: Even among patients diagnosed solely with diabetes, nearly 10% developed liver-related problems within the same ten-year timeframe.

The Study’s Significance

Professor Patricia Valery, leader of the Cancer and Chronic Disease Group at QIMR Berghofer, stressed the significance of this research in showcasing the swift progression of NAFLD in individuals dealing with both diabetes and cirrhosis.

Liver complications, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure, are severe consequences of NAFLD. Although some lifestyle changes and management of related health issues can help, there are currently limited treatments available for NAFLD.

Urgent Need for Early Identification

The study underscores the urgent need for the early detection of NAFLD, especially among individuals with diabetes.

Professor Valery noted that while new diabetes medications show promise in slowing NAFLD progression, the most crucial aspect remains early identification.

Impact on Healthcare Providers and Systems

Professor Elizabeth Powell, Clinical Director and hepatologist at QIMR Berghofer, highlighted the positive influence this research will have on healthcare providers and systems.

She emphasized the importance of raising awareness about the significance of NAFLD, as it has the potential to become an even greater burden on healthcare systems in the future.

In conclusion, the study’s findings serve as a crucial reminder to healthcare professionals about the importance of screening for NAFLD, especially in patients with diabetes and obesity.

Early detection can lead to timely interventions and better outcomes for individuals at risk of severe liver complications linked to NAFLD.

If you care about liver health, please read studies about a diet that can treat fatty liver disease and obesity, and coffee drinkers may halve their risk of liver cancer.

For more information about liver health, please see recent studies that anti-inflammatory diet could help prevent fatty liver disease, and results showing vitamin D could help prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The research findings can be found in the Medical Journal of Australia.

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