A new study has revealed that people with diabetes are at greater risk of developing a deadly liver disease and even cancer.
Researchers from the Queen Mary University of London and the University of Glasgow have urged doctors to pay particular attention to patients diagnosed with type 2 diabetes after discovering a link between the condition and the life-threatening non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
According to the study published in BMC Medicine many patients with the potentially deadly disease are being diagnosed at advanced stages putting them at significant risk of death.
The study of 18 million people across Europe suggests type 2 diabetes patients should be closely monitored to ensure any signs of the disease are picked up early on.
NAFLD is considered the most common cause of liver disease in the world. It is essentially a build up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol and is closely associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes. However, it is sadly a condition that can go undiagnosed by GP’s meaning further risk of health problems.
As part of the recent study the researchers combined the health records of 18 million European adults from the UK, Netherlands, Italy and Spain. They matched each NAFLD patient to 100 patients who did not have a recorded diagnosis, and looked to see who developed chronic liver damage and cancer over time.
From this the scientists discovered a limited amount of NAFLD diagnoses than expected, meaning many went undiagnosed in primary care. This was a cause for concern for lead researcher Dr William Alazawi who explained some patients even progressed to more advanced, life-threatening stages of disease in the short time frame of the study.
“The public, doctors and policy makers need to be aware of this silent disease and strategies need to be put in place to tackle the root causes and avoid progression to life-threatening stages,” he said.
“People living with diabetes are at increased risk of more advanced, life threatening stages of disease, suggesting that we should be focusing our efforts on educating and preventing liver disease in diabetes patients.”
Shockingly the study revealed patients who had a diagnosis of type 2 diabetes were more than twice as likely to develop aggressive liver disease. They were also five times as likely to be diagnosed with cirrhosis – chronic liver damage – and more than three and a half times more likely to be diagnosed with liver cancer.
Naveed Satter from the University of Glasgow said this evidence acts as an important message to doctors to check for signs of the disease in diabetes patients before it’s too late.
“Doctors treating patients with diabetes already have a lot to check on – eyes, kidneys, heart risks – but these results remind us that we should not neglect the liver, nor forget to consider the possibility of NASH,” he explained.
“They also remind us that perhaps more efforts are needed to help remind our patients with diabetes to lose weight and cut alcohol.”
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