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Spotting early liver disease in primary care

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The liver’s ability to heal is compromised The liver’s ability to heal is compromised by large amounts of long-term damage

Awareness of liver disease has grown dramatically in recent years. This reflects increasing incidence and mortality from hepatic disease, in contrast to improving mortality rates for other chronic diseases. Figure 1 illustrates the increase in liver deaths between 1980 and 2012. It shows a rapid rise, particularly in alcohol-related deaths, mirroring changing patterns in alcohol consumption and changes to the relative cost of alcohol.1

Primary care nurses are very well‑placed to promote prevention approaches as well as the care of patients with liver disease. Because the disease shares similar risk factors with other comorbidities, many at-risk patients are already known in their practices.

Understanding the risk factors for liver disease is key to ensuring that expectations of improving care are realistic, and for avoiding duplication of testing and patient reviews. Extending chronic disease monitoring to include consideration of liver disease can be achieved efficiently for both patient and health professional.

This article examines:

  • Liver disease conditions
  • Shared risk factors
  • Understanding significance – and limitations – of liver function tests (LFTs)
  • Tips when issuing lifestyle behaviour change advice.

Liver diseases

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