Fatty liver disease symptoms: Two ‘non-specific’ warning signs you may overlook

Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition characterised by an accumulation of fat in liver cells. NAFLD can graduate to more life-threatening complications, such as cirrhosis, where the liver tissue becomes scarred. Partly what makes this process so frightening is that symptoms do not tend to show up in the early stages.

However, “non-specific” symptoms may occasionally show up, warns health body Pace Hospitals.

Non-specific symptoms include:

  • Mild fatigue
  • Discomfort in the abdomen.
  • A host of unsettling symptoms can show up as the condition progresses.

“In patients with cirrhosis, continued damage to the liver can eventually lead to the appearance of signs and symptoms,” warns Pace Hospitals.

These include:

  • Increased fatigue
  • Buildup of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Bleeding from veins in the oesophagus or stomach (varicose veins)
  • Confusion (encephalopathy).

How NAFLD is diagnosed

The NHS explains: “NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out.”

But blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.

As the NHS notes, 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.

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“If you’re diagnosed with NAFLD, further tests may be needed to determine which stage you have,” adds the NHS.

Am I at risk?

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, NAFLD has been linked to a range of chronic disease markers.

According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:

  • 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 health body.

“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.”

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease, which is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.

How to slow NAFLD down

If you have NAFLD, you can make lifestyle changes to help stop it getting worse.

According to Bupa, losing any excess weight is key to mitigating the threat posed by NAFLD.

“This can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver,” the health body explains.

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