How to be a liver lover

How to be a liver lover

As part of your Equipsme plan, you get to take advantage of our partnership with Thriva. Thriva provide health checks – including online questionnaires and (depending on your plan cover level) finger-prick blood tests you can do yourself at home.

You can also order other blood tests from Thriva. You’ll get a £10 discount code voucher towards a test of your choice (on the welcome email from Thriva after you join or renew with Equipsme). One of those tests looks at your liver– which is a pretty good indicator of your general and long-term health.

So here’s some important information about your liver, where it is, what it does, what can go wrong, how to get yours checked out, and how you can look after it by learning to be a liver lover.

Where IS your liver?

Your liver can be found at the top right hand side of your tummy, and is the second largest organ you have after your skin.

What does your liver actually do?

It plays a role in over 500 functions in your body – helping to detoxify your blood and break down harmful substances, digest food, fight infections, maintain hormone balances, regulate blood sugar levels, and store vitamins and minerals.

What can go wrong with your liver?

Your liver has a pretty important and very complex job to do, and the good news is that it’s pretty good at repairing itself. But there are things that can go wrong. Common examples include:

  • Alcohol related liver disease: Alcohol related liver disease (ARLD). Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of the liver cells die, and prolonged alcohol misuse over many years can result in serious and permanent damage.
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. It's usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.
  • Hepatitis: Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver as the result of a viral infection. There are several different types of hepatitis, the most common being Hepatitis A, B, and C. Most people recover from Hepatitis A with no lasting liver damage and minimal symptoms, but Hepatitis B and C can cause long term liver disease and even liver cancer. Hepatitis A is usually caught from consuming food and drink contaminated with the faeces of an infected person and is most usually found in countries where sanitation is poor. Hepatitis B and C are usually spread by blood-to-blood contact or bodily fluids, for instance  from infected pregnant women to their babies, through needle sharing or unprotected sex.
  • Liver cancer: Cancer is when abnormal cells start to divide and grow in an uncontrolled way – and it can start in your liver. Although it’s on the rise in the UK, it’s more common to have cancer that has spread to the liver from somewhere else in your body.
  • Primary biliary cholangitis: Primary biliary cholangitis or BPC is when your immune system mistakenly attacks the bile ducts in your liver, and it can get worse over time, leading in extreme cases to liver failure.
  • Cirrhosis: Cirrhosis of the liver is the term that refers to scarring caused by long-term liver damage, preventing the liver working properly. Cirrhosis is sometimes called end-stage liver disease because it happens after other stages of damage from the various conditions above that can affect the liver.

What are the signs and symptoms to look out for?

Different kinds of liver diseases have slightly different symptoms, but overall a malfunctioning liver will typically cause some of the following symptoms:

  • Feeling tired
  • Feeling weak
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Yellow skin or whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Dark urine
  • Itchy skin
  • Feeling or being sick.

Who is most likely to have liver problems?

According to the British Liver Trust, one in five of us are at risk of developing liver disease – but 9 out of 10 cases can be prevented by making lifestyle changes. You’re more likely to have liver problems if you misuse alcohol, or if you’re obese.

Fatty livers can also run in families, and there are rarer hereditary types of liver disease, including a condition called Haemochromatosis.

How can you look after your liver?

Boringly, most of us can make the biggest difference to our livers by reducing how much alcohol we drink, by losing weight, and by eating well and moving more. All things we all know we should be doing… but in the case of your liver it can make a HUGE difference.

1 in 3 of us in the UK is already estimated to have a bit of a fatty liver. But losing just 5-10% of your body weight can actually control or even reverse fatty liver disease. Your liver WANTS to do you all the favours it does for you – it just wants you to give it a fighting chance!

For those at risk at Hepatitis, prevention can include simple things like not sharing razors or needles or other drug-taking equipment, using condoms during sex and covering open wounds. You can also get a Hepatitis B vaccine through the NHS.

How much alcohol is too much alcohol?

Men and women should drink no more than 14 units per week. You should also try to give your liver a regular break by having 2 to 3 alcohol free days each week – preferably all in a row.

How do you know if your liver is working properly?

The trouble with your liver always doing its best for you is that it can be easy to dismiss symptoms, or not notice them gradually worsening. The good news is that you can check up on your liver with a simple blood test.

What does a liver blood test actually check for?

A liver blood test measures the levels of a range of things in your blood, like proteins, liver enzymes, and bilirubin. Measuring these things can help check your liver function and also check for signs of inflammation or damage.

How can I get myself tested?

If you’re feeling unwell - even if you’ve got wide ranging and rather vague symptoms - you should always talk to your GP. It can be tough to put all the symptoms together, so if you feel you need more time with someone or a second opinion, don’t forget you can also make an appointment with an Equipsme GP 24/7.

You can also take things into your own hands and order your own blood test through our partners Thriva. You’ve got a £10 voucher towards a test of your choice (you’ll find the discount code on the welcome email from Thriva after you join or renew with Equipsme) - and they’ll send you a test pack out in the post. You do your own finger-prick blood sample from the comfort of your own home, and pop it back in the post to get to Thriva’s lab. If you’re squeamish about taking your own blood sample, Thriva tests can also be arranged with a nurse at your local pharmacy for an additional fee.

Where can I find out more information about my liver?

British Liver Trust
Cancer research
Patient Info

Related blog articles:

Find out more about Thriva home health-checks
Find out more about our GP service
What is Vitamin D?
What is cholesterol?
What is diabetes?