NHS Choices: Liver Disease
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Fatty liver disease broadly falls into two categories – alcoholic and non-alcoholic. As the name suggests, the former is triggered by excessive alcohol consumption, but the latter is harder to explain. Non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD) appears to be associated with chronic disease markers, such as obesity.
Adding to the mystery of NAFLD is the absence of symptoms – this makes it an insidious condition.
However, according to health body The GI Unit, there are a number of hard to spot symptoms that can occasionally surface in the early stages.
“Early symptoms are hard to spot but they can include fatigue, a dull or aching pain in the top right of the stomach, unexplained weight loss or weakness,” explains the health body.
It adds: “The condition can develop into cirrhosis which will cause jaundice, itchy skin and swelling around the body.”
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by long-term liver damage.
This damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure (where your liver stops working properly) and liver cancer.
How is NAFLD diagnosed?
The scarcity of symptoms means NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test, says the NHS.
But, as the health body points out, blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.
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“The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy.”
This is a type of scan where sound waves are used to create an image of the inside of your body.
Am I at risk of NAFLD?
Experts don’t know exactly why some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not.
Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that progresses to cirrhosis.
However, as the Mayo Clinic explains, NAFLD is linked to poor health markers.
- Overweight or obesity
- Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
- High blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
- High levels of fats, particularly triglycerides, in the blood.
“These combined health problems appear to promote the deposit of fat in the liver,” warns the Mayo Clinic.
“For some people, this excess fat acts as a toxin to liver cells, causing liver inflammation and NASH, which may lead to a buildup of scar tissue in the liver.”
What is NASH?
Some individuals with NAFLD can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, it is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.
“This damage is similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol use,” the health body warns.
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