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Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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Fatty liver disease can be caused by overeating or damage to the organ from alcohol. It shows few symptoms in its early stages – when it is easiest to treat. And as it advances it can become life-threatening and difficult to reverse. In its final stage – known as cirrhosis – fatty liver disease is generally impossible to reverse and treatment may be designed to stop further damage rather than cure the condition. Certain sleep disturbances are a sign of this stage.

Cirrhosis can cause problems all over the body. It occurs when the liver is scarred by long-term damage to the liver.

The scarring can stop the organ from doing its job of clearing toxins from the body. When the liver is healthy, toxins are filtered through the organ where they are attacked by immune cells.

When these toxins aren’t cleared up by the liver, they accumulate in the blood, explains the National Organisation for Rare Disorders (NORD).

They eventually travel to the brain, where they start to wreak havoc. Research suggests this process – known as hepatic encephalopathy (HE) – might mess with how you sleep.

A study, published in 2018 in the Nature and Science of Sleep journal, explained: “The most common abnormalities are insomnia (difficulties falling asleep and maintaining sleep, wellbutrin uk name or unrefreshing sleep), excessive daytime sleepiness, and sleep–wake inversion (disturbances of circadian rhythmicity).”

It added that these problems are “related” to the buildup of toxins in the brain.

Cirrhosis may also cause sleep problems by disturbing the balance of the sleep hormone melatonin in the body.

High levels of melatonin cause you to become more drowsy and increase your ability to fall asleep.

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According to early studies, patients with cirrhosis have high melatonin levels in the day and low levels at night – meaning that they’re more sleepy in the day but not at night.

Unlike cirrhosis, the buildup of these toxins is treatable.

The 2018 study suggested that these symptoms can “improved” with the management of HE.

Hydroxyzine and modafinil both showed “encouraging results” in the study but the authors acknowledged that further research is needed to understand the consequences of toxicity from the drugs.

How to reduce your risk of cirrhosis and cirrhosis complications

The Cleveland Clinic suggests that HE can be prevented by cutting out alcohol and eating a healthy diet.

Both of these factors can also help to stop fatty liver disease in its tracks if it has not progressed to cirrhosis yet.

Other than sleep disturbances, the symptoms of cirrhosis include feeling sick, losing your appetite, losing weight and feeling very tired and weak, according to the NHS.

If you have these symptoms, don’t hesitate to visit your doctor.

The health body also recognises the following cirrhosis symptoms:

  • Jaundice
  • High temperature and shivering
  • Vomiting
  • Pale poo
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark pee
  • Swelling in your ankles
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal periods in women
  • Loss of sex drive
  • Enlarged breasts in men or a swollen scrotum.

“If cirrhosis (the most advanced stage) develops, you can get more severe symptoms, such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy (oedema),” adds the NHS. 

“See a GP urgently or call 111 if you have any of these symptoms and have a liver condition.”

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