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Date: 22 August 2018

In the BBC Two documentary ‘Drinkers Like Me’, being broadcast at 9pm on Monday 27 August, well-known television presenter Adrian Chiles explores why alcohol is embedded in British culture and social drinking.

Adrian visits The London Clinic private hospital and charity to investigate his own liver health; having a FibroScan and liver function blood tests, with leading liver expert Dr Patrick Kennedy


 

We spoke to Dr Kennedy to understand the importance of a FibroScan and how this simple test detects liver stiffness and the build-up of unhealthy liver fat, both of which can occur without symptoms and can even be present with normal liver function tests. 

What is a FibroScan?

A FibroScan is a simple, fast test that measures liver health and fat levels so that action can be taken to help the liver recover. In the worst cases, scarring of the liver, also referred to as fibrosis, puts the patient at risk of progressive liver disease, cirrhosis and liver failure. 

Significant liver scarring or even cirrhosis can be present even with normal liver function. For this reason, blood tests alone are not adequate to assess liver damage.

The FibroScan complements the liver function tests by providing a value for liver stiffness (scarring), which previously could only be assessed with a liver biopsy. 

How does the FibroScan work?

The procedure takes approximately 10 - 15 minutes and the FibroScan result is immediately available.  

A small probe is placed on the patient and positioned over the liver, similar to an ultrasound scan. A reading is recorded for the degree of fibrosis and fat in the liver. The higher the value for fibrosis, the ‘stiffer’ your liver is and this is an indicator of damage. 

What is the relation between alcohol, fatty liver and liver fibrosis? 

Drinking a significant amount of alcohol regularly without alcohol-free days can lead to the build-up of fat in the liver. Continuous excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of liver injury (or inflammation) and it is this ongoing liver inflammation which drives scar formation and the development of liver fibrosis. 

The liver is a resilient organ and is capable of regenerating itself and the FibroScan test is a useful way to benchmark and improve your liver health. 

What happens after a FibroScan? 

In cases where there is no scarring, mild fibrosis, or moderate fat; lifestyle interventions are often enough to prevent the development of liver disease or avoid disease progression.

So the simple advice to improve your liver health is:

  • reduce alcohol consumption
  • have alcohol free days
  • drink within the recommended limits
  • maintain a healthy weight
  • exercise regularly   

If significant liver scarring is detected, the patient may be referred for additional tests to establish the severity of damage and to exclude the complications of cirrhosis and formulate an appropriate management plan. 

Who is at risk of liver disease? 

In addition to alcohol misuse or even excessive social drinking, other major risk factors for liver disease are obesity, insulin resistance and viral hepatitis.

How do I get a FibroScan? 

You can ask your GP for a referral or book an appointment directly by please contact livergroup@thelondonclinic.co.uk or telephone 020 7616 7719. If you have health insurance, please check whether a FibroScan is included in your medical insurance policy. 

Further information

For more information about the recommended limits of alcohol intake please visit: www.drinkaware.co.uk

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