Maybe it's not the disease you think it is: Canadian Liver Foundation seeks to counter stereotypes with five surprising risk factors for liver disease

TORONTO, March 3, 2015 /CNW/ - The shock of a liver disease diagnosis is often accompanied by confusion. With alcohol being the most recognized risk factor for liver disease, many Canadians mistakenly assume that they have nothing to worry about if they are moderate to non-drinkers. To kick off Liver Health Month, the Canadian Liver Foundation is sharing five lesser known risk factors that will help show there is more to liver disease than the stereotype suggests.

"Liver disease is underdiagnosed in Canada and it is due in part to the perception that alcohol consumption is the only risk factor," says Gary Fagan, President of the Canadian Liver Foundation. "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is actually the most common liver disease in Canada and there are many other forms of liver disease linked to genetics or even our immune system that most people have never heard of until they are personally affected by them. Some risk factors can be addressed but some cannot which is why it's important to have liver tests so problems can be identified as early as possible."

Some surprising liver disease facts:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is one of five liver diseases responsible for 95% of liver-related deaths in Canada
  • Biliary atresia (a disease with an unknown cause resulting in bile duct abnormalities in infants) is the leading cause of liver failure in children
  • Acetaminophen overdose is the leading cause of acute liver failure
  • Primary biliary cirrhosis (a bile duct disease) affects 1 in 500 middle-aged women.

The following are five surprising risk factors for liver disease:

  1. Obesity
    Over the years, our poor eating habits and sedentary lifestyles have led to a dramatic increase in obesity. Unfortunately, obesity often leads to fat build-up in the liver which in turns causes inflammation – otherwise known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. This condition can progress to a more severe stage in which there is an ongoing damage to the liver with scarring – known as cirrhosis.  When cirrhosis develops, the liver will slowly stop functioning.

  2. Genetics
    The genes we inherit from our parents dictate physical characteristics like hair and eye colour but they also determine our susceptibility to certain forms of liver disease. Several forms of liver disease – including Wilson disease which leads to a toxic build up of copper, and hemochromatosis which causes the body to store up excess iron– are the result of inherited gene abnormalities. Tyrosinemia, Alagille syndrome and galactosemia are examples of inherited liver diseases that can be life-threatening for infants and very young children.

  3. Immune system
    The immune system's job is to protect the body but sometimes it takes its work a little too seriously. There are certain liver diseases that are the result of the immune system attacking the liver. Auto-immune hepatitis, primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC) and primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC) are all linked to the immune system. Researchers do not yet know what causes the immune system to turn on the liver or why some people are more susceptible to these diseases than others. It is believed that the trigger could be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Recent CLF funded research has shown that PBC could actually be caused by a virus.

  4. Medication
    In our busy lives, few of us have time to be sick and thankfully there are numerous medications that can treat everything from a common cold to chronic physical and mental conditions. Unfortunately, as the organ tasked with processing all medications, the liver can be vulnerable to injury due to toxic combinations of medications and inadvertent overdoses.

  5. The unknown
    While some forms of liver disease have identifiable causes and risk factors, many others do not. Liver diseases can affect anyone at any age and we don't necessarily know why. The good news is that the most common liver diseases can be prevented, treated or even cured. With more research, we may one day be able to do the same for the others.    

During Liver Health Month, the Canadian Liver Foundation will be sharing personal stories and liver disease facts via its website and social media to encourage the public to take a second look at liver disease and consider that 'Maybe it's not the disease you think it is'. The Foundation will also be launching its new brand which highlights the importance of liver health and the CLF's commitment to 'bringing liver research to life". Visit www.liver.ca/march to find out more and help spread the word.

About the Canadian Liver Foundation
Founded in 1969, the Canadian Liver Foundation (CLF) was the first organization in the world devoted to providing support for research and education into the causes, diagnoses, prevention and treatment of all liver disease. Today we are the largest charitable funder of liver-related research and we are committed to bringing liver research to life by promoting liver health, improving public awareness and understanding of liver disease and providing support to individuals affected by liver disease. To learn more or to make a donation, visit www.liver.ca    

SOURCE Canadian Liver Foundation

Image with caption: "Canadian Liver Foundation (CNW Group/Canadian Liver Foundation)". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20150303_C5777_PHOTO_EN_12678.jpg

For further information: Melanie Kearns, 416-491-3353 ext. 4923, mkearns@liver.ca

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www.liver.ca

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