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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. You can also get alcohol-related liver disease, which is liver damage that is caused by drinking too much alcohol. A healthy liver should contain little or no fat, though the NHS estimates up to one in every three people in the UK has early stages of NAFLD, where there are small amounts of fat in their liver.
The American liver foundation says that if more than five to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver. Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions.
Cirrhosis is the most severe stage, according to the NHS. It says that this tends to occur after years of inflammation, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy,
It suggests that this damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure where your liver stops working properly, and liver cancer.
There are several signs which can show up, some of which show up on your legs, ankles, feet or tummy.
Oedema can occur when you have swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy.
The NHS states: “If cirrhosis (the most advanced stage) develops, you can get more severe symptoms, such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice).”
It says that occasionally people with more advanced stages of NAFLD may experience a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy or extreme tiredness. You may also notice unexplained weight loss and weakness.
People with a liver condition who develop dark black tarry faeces, or dark urine, should seek “urgent medical attention”, according to the British Liver Trust.
Other serious symptoms include vomiting blood, bruising easily, itching skin and swelling of the lower tummy area.
“Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse,” the NHS website states.
If detected and managed at an early stage, NAFLD can be stopped from getting worse and the amount of fat in your liver can be reduced.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.
People are more likely to develop NAFLD as a result of a number of factors. For example, if you are insulin resistant, as people can be when they have polycystic ovary syndrome.
You may need to cut it out of your diet, or reduce your intake. There’s not currently any medicine that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.
A doctor will help diagnose your condition correctly and give you the right advice and care plan.
If you develop severe cirrhosis, stage four fatty liver disease, and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
For adults, the average waiting time for a liver transplant is 135 days for transplants.
NAFLD is increasingly common around the world, especially in Western nations, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs and symptoms that cause you concern,” it says.
Only a small number of people with NAFLD have more advanced stages.
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