As a liver specialist (aka hepatologist), it’s my bias that the liver is the most important organ in the body. While this is a lighthearted opinion, in the 25+ years that I have been a practicing hepatologist, the general knowledge of how the liver works and what diseases affect it is generally less well know, compared to other organs in the general public.
This week in San Francisco is the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) annual meeting. The Liver Meeting draws a worldwide audience of practitioners and researchers that are dedicated to advancing and eradicating all forms of liver disease. It’s a chance to get updated on the latest research and clinical breakthroughs that we can all apply to our patients back in the clinic.
But what about the general public? What do you need to know about them, and why is it important?
Liver disease is no different than heart, lung, kidney, or gastrointestinal disorders. The more you know and have awareness, the more likely you will be mindful of the various risk factors for liver disease, symptoms, and what the natural history is and the associated complications are. Most importantly, having an understanding of what you can do to arrest or reverse liver damage is of utmost importance. All too often, I see new patients referred for a consultation or second opinion who have been harboring a wide variety of symptoms and complaints for months to years without a clue that they were concealing an underlying chronic liver condition. By the time I evaluate them, it’s clear that they have experienced significant liver damage, putting them at risk for cirrhosis and potentially life-threatening complications. If they had greater insight into how the liver worked, they could have saved a lot of misery today.
· Personal and family risk factors for liver disease
· Safe levels of alcohol use, and the dangers of excessive alcohol use
· Medications and vitamin/herbal supplement use associated with liver damage
· Risks related to fatty liver, and the role of obesity and metabolic syndrome in liver disease progression
· Being aware of your liver blood tests and their values
· Understanding other impacts of other medical conditions you may have and their effects on the liver
· Symptoms of liver disease
· Role of hepatitis A and B vaccination
· Hepatitis B management in Asian individuals
· Why all baby boomers need to be screened for hepatitis C
· The role of autoimmune disease and liver complications
· The role of nutrition and liver disease
As I have stated previously, good health does not occur by accident. It requires an active intent to become aware, learns, and implement the knowledge you acquire. The list above it just an introduction to the knowledge base you need to have, let along a similar knowledge base to be aware of with regard to the other organ systems. Much has been written about health-related knowledge in the general population. I do believe that it is everyone’s responsibility to become aware of the basic issues related to health and wellness. Taking responsibility for your own health, and that of your family, will reduce the cost, and suffering from chronic disease in the future.
So, what is your liver IQ? Take the first step today to learn more.