Liver disease is a major health problem worldwide, with liver hardening (cirrhosis) and liver cancer causing more than 2 million deaths globally each year. In the past, common causes of liver disease are hepatitis B virus (HBV), hepatitis C virus (HCV) and excessive alcohol consumption. Less common diagnoses are autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), primary biliary cholangitis (PBC), primary sclerosing cholangitis (PSC), Wilson’s disease, etc. However, doctors around the world are seeing an increase in people suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects up to 40% of population in many countries.
While many patients feel well and normal in the early stage of their liver disease, a significant percentage can develop liver hardening, liver cancer and liver failure. For some patients, medications or procedures can very effectively help to control their liver disease and prolong life, but these treatments are best guided by expert liver specialists familiar with managing liver conditions. In some patients, despite best medications or procedures, liver failure or liver cancer such as hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) may still develop. In this case, liver transplant may be the only hope for cure.
Many patients with early stage liver disease such as chronic hepatitis B/C or fatty liver do not feel sick, and only discover their liver problem accidentally during health screening. Without treatment, 30% to 40% of these patients will progress to liver hardening and liver failure. Once liver failure occurs, patients would suffer from water retention (abdomen and/or leg swelling), jaundice (yellow skin and eyes), hepatic encephalopathy (confusion or coma) or variceal bleeding (vomiting of blood or passing out blood in stool). In patients with liver hardening, there is a 6-7% yearly risk of growing liver cancer. Liver cancer is usually painless in early stages and many patients with early stage liver cancer are not aware of the problem unless they go for regular scans. Early stage liver cancer can be cured if discovered promptly.