If you were asked to name some signs of ageing, you might think of wrinkly skin, grey hair or poor eyesight. Age-related changes go much further than that, though. Your blood vessels and airways become more rigid, your bones weaken and you lose muscle mass and strength.
Then there’s your liver. Your largest internal organ goes through considerable changes as you get older. Let’s take a look.
What happens to your liver as you age?
Your liver experiences several structural and microscopic changes as you get older, including:
- A change in colour from lighter to darker brown
- Getting smaller
- Reduced blood flow
- Decreased production and flow of bile
- Reduced ability to manage stress
- Reduced capacity to metabolise substances
- Slower repair of damaged cells.
What does that mean in practice? A few things.
1. You might need a lower dose of medication
All medications have side effects. When we prescribe them, we’re weighing the likely benefits against the potential side effects. That equation can change as you get older.
Your liver is not as good as it used to be at metabolising substances like medications, meaning you’re more likely to experience dose-related side effects.
The answer might be to lower the dose. That way, you can hopefully continue to benefit from the medication without experiencing troubling side effects.
This needs to be overseen by your general practitioner or specialist.
2. Gallstones become more common
Gallstones are hard, pebble-like masses that form in your gallbladder, below your liver. The risk of gallstones may increase with age, in part, because your liver is not making as much bile as it used to. Decreased bile production makes cholesterol more likely to crystallise and turn into gallstones.
3. You may need to be more cautious with alcohol and other substances
Each time your liver filters alcohol, some of its cells die. It’s resilient enough to develop new cells if you don’t drink much or drink too often.
As you get older, though, your liver’s ability to withstand that sort of stress decreases. Toxic substances like alcohol can therefore cause more damage in older people than in younger ones. Your liver is also less able to repair damaged cells, meaning alcohol consumption can become more problematic more quickly.
It’s important to remember that alcohol is never completely safe regardless of your age. However, here are some Australian Guidelines to help reduce the health risks if you do decide to consume alcohol.
Why should you get a liver scan if you are older?
Even with all these age-related changes, blood test results may remain normal.
If you’re concerned about age-related liver changes, then it may be worth getting a liver scan.
A liver scan is the key to spotting early health warnings. This is a non-invasive procedure similar to an ultrasound. It inspects your liver for signs of scarring (fibrosis) or fatty changes.
How can we help?
Moonee Valley Specialist Centre is one of only a few private clinics in Victoria to possess a FibroScan® 502 Touch liver scanner.
You don’t need a referral for this. Simply make an appointment.
Liver scans are run by our Registered Nurse Nicole Starbuck-Connelly and supported by Dr Nathan Connelly, a leading and highly respected hepatologist (liver specialist) and gastroenterologist.
All information is general and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can consult with you to confirm if a particular treatment or procedure is right for you. Any surgical or invasive procedure carries risks. A second opinion may help you decide if a particular treatment is right for you.