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As you get older, your physical health often becomes more of a concern. Depending on your age and lifestyle, there are certain factors that can lead to increased health issues that in the past you may not have worried about, however you can keep this worry at bay with the help of a private healthcare specialist.
One particularly common cause for concern is the liver. Oftentimes, issues with your liver are left undetected until the problems at play are quite far progressed. Furthermore, the traditional diagnostic method for liver issues is a biopsy, which is an invasive procedure that requires you to be hospitalised.
Thankfully, there is an easier, more reliable solution: a liver ultrasound. Read on as we discuss what this entails, the benefits and why you should see a private healthcare specialist to undertake such a scan.
An ultrasound is a non-invasive procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to form an image of part of the inside of the body. This is done through the use of a handheld device known as a transducer, which is held and moved against the area of the body being inspected. The transducer sends sound waves into the body and collects the ones that bounce back, sending these into a computer so that the images can then be created on the monitor.
Ultrasounds are most commonly known for being used in pregnancy, as a safe way to check the health of a foetus. However, they can also be used for various other health reasons, including to check the health of your liver and help diagnose various liver conditions.
The risks associated with ultrasounds are incredibly low, with them being considered a safe procedure that almost anyone can have. There are no absolute contraindications to having an ultrasound, meaning there are no risks of damage or harm that may otherwise occur as a result of undergoing an ultrasound examination.
Furthermore, unlike other imagery scanning examinations (such as x-rays), which use ionising radiation, ultrasounds use non-ionising radiation. This is a form of radiation that is safe to be exposed to in moderation, since it doesn’t have enough energy to remove electrons from atoms and molecules within the cells of our body.
An ultrasound is also much safer than the traditional diagnostic method for liver issues – a biopsy. This is because it is non-invasive, whereas a biopsy requires you to be hospitalised overnight so that a small sample of your liver can be taken for inspection and analysis, which is obtained through the use of a thin needle.
Not only is this an invasive procedure, but there are more risks and pain associated with a liver biopsy than an ultrasound, and the results may not be an accurate representation of the entirety of your liver, since such a small sample is taken.
An ultrasound scan can be used to produce images of your liver and its blood vessels, allowing it to detect various things; for example, they can be used to check that the blood flow is as it should be in the blood vessels that supply the liver, or to check for tumours on the liver that could indicate cancer, along with various other issues.
On top of this, technological advancements have led to an enhanced form of ultrasound used specifically to check the health of the liver, known as a Fibroscan. A Fibroscan is used to measure inflammation in the liver. It can detect the firmness of the liver and identify any scar tissue that has developed, which is known as fibrosis.
A Fibroscan is a type of pulse-echo ultrasound, which, alongside using high frequency sound waves, is able to detect inflammation thanks to the use of transient elastography, which measures the velocity of a vibration wave generated on the skin in order to assess liver hardness.
Another difference between a Fibroscan and a regular ultrasound is that during a Fibroscan a probe is placed on the surface of your skin. This probe is what sends out the sound waves in pulses, allowing the scanner to then measure the time it takes for these sound waves to bounce back from your liver. This is repeated 10 times, then an average is calculated so that the scanner can generate the most accurate reading.
Whether you have a history of excessive alcohol use, are overweight, have been diagnosed with a liver health condition or a genetic liver disease runs in your family, there are a number of liver conditions that can be detected through the use of an ultrasound or Fibroscan.
The diseases affecting the liver that can be diagnosed or monitored by a Fibroscan include:
Many of these diseases go undetected for years, yet increase your risk of developing cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) and liver cancer. The scar tissue that forms as a result of cirrhosis replaces the healthy tissue in the liver and can prevent it from working properly.
It is important that you follow any pre-treatment instructions prior to your scan. Most Fibroscan appointments require you to fast for two hours before your scan, meaning you should not eat or drink anything. It’s usually okay to have some small sips of water if needed, as long as you are not drinking large amounts. It’s also okay for you to continue taking any prescribed medications that you are on.
No clothes need to be removed for the scan, though you should bear in mind that your abdomen will need to be exposed, so it’s best to opt for a top or shirt that can be easily lifted to do so.
When it comes to undergoing a liver ultrasound or Fibroscan, your best option is to use a private service. A private practice, such as us here at Duality Health Ltd, allows you to book an ultrasound appointment yourself, rather than requiring a referral from your GP (though referrals are also welcome). This means you have flexibility around scheduling your ultrasound appointment and can book one for peace of mind, even if you’re experiencing no indications or symptoms of liver issues.
In addition to this, you’ll also receive the results of your scan a lot faster and will have the option to arrange a follow-up appointment with the GP to discuss these.
If there are issues detected with your liver, you will then be referred to a specialist who can discuss treatment options with you. Using a private service, this will allow you to access specialist treatments and services alongside customised healthcare, so that any liver issues you may experience will be treated promptly with your comfort prioritised.
Could you benefit from a liver ultrasound or Fibroscan? If so and you live in Northern Ireland, then you need Duality Health Ltd. Aiming to make private healthcare more accessible and affordable, we offer a range of comprehensive healthcare services in Newry.
Alongside private ultrasound scans and liver Fibroscans, we also offer a full range of GP services, nursing appointments, private blood tests and sexual health and contraception services.