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Which drinker is most at risk of getting liver disease?

Liver disease is now the fifth biggest killer in the UK — with the number of people dying from it rising by 20 per cent over the past decade. However, there are often no warning signs until it is far advanced, so many of us could have the potentially fatal condition without even realising it.

Indeed, when the British Liver Trust recently offered members of the public on-the-spot screening, one in four people tested showed signs of early scarring.

‘Most people die of liver disease after just their first or second admission to hospital for it, as they have not realised they were suffering with it — and their condition will be so far advanced. By the time they are seen, it is too late,’ says Dr Martin Prince, consultant hepatologist at the Manchester Royal Infirmary.

These people took a test using FibroScan, a device that measures the stiffness of the liver. The technique is similar to ultrasound

These people took a test using FibroScan, a device that measures the stiffness of the liver. The technique is similar to ultrasound

People think of cirrhosis — scarring of the liver — as a terminal condition. But if we address whatever causes the scarring at a  reasonable stage, the progress can be halted, and in some cases might even be reversed.’

The British Liver Trust is now calling for  early scanning for liver disease to be offered by the NHS.

To get a sense of what such screening might reveal, we asked a group of people to undergo testing using FibroScan, a device that measures the stiffness of the liver. It is this stiffness, explains Dr Prince, that suggests scarring.

The technique is similar to ultrasound. A probe is placed on the right side of the body, just underneath the ribcage, where the liver is located. The device uses soundwaves to measure the stiffness of the liver. A reading of between seven and 13 suggests some damage — more than 14 indicates cirrhosis.