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Dry January has started and thousands of people are ‘going dry’ and abstaining from alcohol. What does this mean for our bodies and our minds? Many of us enjoy a drink, or two or three, for various reasons – to socialise, to celebrate, to unwind or to compliment a good meal.

About Dr Yiannis Kallis

Dr Yiannis Kallis is a Consultant Hepatologist and Gastroenterologist specialising in liver, pancreas and bile ducts disease. He performs the FibroScan test, and endoscopy.
View Dr Yiannis Kallis’s full profile

Is doing Dry January beneficial to people’s health, or is a long-term approach needed?

A long-term approach is what is really needed. The risks to health from excess alcohol consumption tend to develop over long periods of time, but they are much more effectively managed and/or prevented, if there is early recognition that you may be drinking too much.

Going sober for a month focuses people’s attention on looking at how much they are drinking (and often why). Cutting out alcohol immediately impacts upon lifestyle – allowing for better sleep, focus, energy and more time for other things. Weight loss is often an unintended although welcome benefit, as well.

Do you think people underestimate the government guidelines about units when drinking?

It is very easy to underestimate how much you are drinking and how easy it is to exceed 14 units if you drink every day, or most days. This is nothing to do with being an alcoholic, more to do with habits and behaviours. Most alcoholic drinks are higher in strength than they used to be. A bottle of red wine is 10 units, a pint of normal strength beer (5%) is 3 units. It is very easy to exceed 14units.

Two glasses of red wine

Is the consumption of alcohol linked to stress and lifestyle factors, such as busy jobs?

 There are many reasons why people drink – helping them to unwind after a busy or stressful day is just one of them. If this is a daily occurrence, then again it may be easy to end up regularly drinking more than may be safe in the long-term. In some ways, if you are heavily reliant on alcohol to de-stress at the end of the day, then you have a degree of dependency on alcohol. It is better to find other, or more varied ways of destressing. Exercise is an obvious example of a very healthy way of achieving this, or taking up a hobby that has nothing to do with work.

Fibroscan test

What is the FibroScan test and how does it work?

The FibroScan is a simple, quick and pain-free way of detecting early signs of potential long-term damage to the liver, not only from alcohol but from other conditions, such as fatty liver. It is a non-invasive test that can reveal any fibrosis (scarring) within the liver. You do not need a biopsy or an injection as the Fibroscan works using ultrasound and it gives an immediate result.

 One of the difficulties in detecting whether someone is developing liver disease is that the symptoms or signs only occur very late, when the liver is usually extensively and sometimes irreversibly damaged. Even liver blood tests, ‘LFTs’ are not very good at detecting background liver damage, as the results can often appear to be normal even when they are not.

 The FibroScan can be used as a one-off screening test, or it can be repeated over time to measure someone’s progress – if they are known to have liver fibrosis (scarring), or a fatty liver.

 Is there a particular age-range, or group of people that benefit more from the FibroScan test?

Not really, the peak ages of incidence of liver disease occur in people in their 50’s and 60’s but the fastest rate of increase is in people aged 20-40. 

If the results of the FibroScan are worrying, what are the next steps?

It depends upon how worrying the results are. The main treatment for alcohol related liver damage is to reduce the level of alcohol consumption. The rate of reduction depends on how much they were drinking in the first place and the severity of the liver damage. 

What support is available to help people make long-term changes to their drinking habits?

There are many forms of help in the community for people who have problems with alcohol dependency and most are accessible through their GP.

Many people who drink however, do not have alcohol dependency. Campaigns, such as Dry January, or Go Sober for October, can make people take stock and realise how much they are drinking. There are good tips on public health and drink-aware websites about how to reduce consumption, including pouring smaller glass sizes and taking 2-3 ‘rest’ days a week etc.

Awareness is key, as this empowers you to take control. Detecting fibrosis early provides an opportunity to change your lifestyle to prevent the fibrosis becoming more widespread and leading to more severe chronic liver disease.

How can I book a Fibroscan test?

 Patients can be referred by their GP but we also accept direct patient referrals. If you are self-referring you will need to pay for the scan yourself at the appointment, if you are referred by a physician you may be covered by your medical insurance policy. In this case please check with your provider and obtain an authorisation code prior to attending.

For more information or to book a consultation please contact our appointments team on: 020 3918 7994.

FibroScan liver test 

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