Bin Dixon-Smith hadn’t heard of fatty liver disease until she was told she had it.
“It was a surprise … first of all to learn that it was a thing and secondly, that it could be dangerous,” the 59-year-old told AAP.
“I didn’t feel sick. I didn’t feel like there was something wrong with my liver, I didn’t have any pain. Nothing.”
The contemporary jeweller learned she had the condition – in which excess fats accumulate in the liver – after a routine blood test to check her cholesterol.
Her GP was concerned and recommended the Melbourne woman see a gastroenterologist, who made the diagnosis.
That gave Ms Dixon-Smith an extra push to improve her lifestyle, including changing her diet to lose weight.
“I surf, I bike ride. I see myself as quite active and so I thought well I can handle this extra weight, you know? I get around. I do stuff,” she said.
“But once I realised it was affecting my organs, rather than just being fat, I thought mmm – that might not be good.”
Fatty liver disease affects more than 5.5 million Australians but most don’t know anything about it.
Given it shows few or no symptoms, the disease often goes unnoticed until it has reached its late stages, when it becomes a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease and can lead to liver failure and cancer.
But a group of researchers has come a step closer to ensuring it can be detected early and easily.
The researchers from Melbourne’s Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, the University of California, and the University of Sydney have identified a group of fats in the blood that they believe could suggest the progression of fatty liver disease.
The discovery could pave the way for a blood test to check for the condition rather than the methods currently required for diagnosis, such as an MRI.
“We’re very excited at the potential of being able to diagnose people earlier, before they develop advanced disease and advanced complications from this,” researcher Dr Anna Calkin told AAP.
“We now need to investigate this further in larger populations of individuals who have different ranges of liver disease.”
The team has also discovered fresh genes linked to the condition, which could help develop medication to treat it.
For many people, the condition isn’t just related to lifestyle factors such as weight, but also their genetic makeup.
The findings have been published in the scientific journal Nature on Thursday.
Australian Associated Press