Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms
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Your liver performs many important roles in the body, such as helping to remove harmful substances. However, sometimes harmful substances can overwhelm the vital organ’s ability to flush them out. When this takes the form of a fatty build-up in the liver, it is called fatty liver disease.
There are two types of fatty liver disease:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) – develops in someone who drinks an excessive amount of alcohol
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – develops in someone who does not drink an excessive amount of alcohol.
Some people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms, particularly in the early stages, while advanced cases – closer to developing cirrhosis – are more likely to see and feel signs.
“Cirrhosis – scarring of the liver is widespread, possibly irreversible and life-threatening,” warns healthcare body UPMC Western Maryland.
According to the health body, nosebleeds and yellow eyes indicate the presence of cirrhosis.
Other signs of cirrhosis include:
- Itchy skin
- Web-like clusters of blood vessels.
“Doctors may be the first to spot fatty liver disease, even with no symptoms, if patients present elevated liver enzymes on blood tests,” says UPMC Western Maryland.
According to the NHS, 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.
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The NHS explains: “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.
How to reduce the risk of NAFLD
If detected and managed at an early stage, it’s possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
One of the most important interventions you can make is to lose excess weight.
Bupa explains: “This can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver.”
The health body adds that it’s important not to lose weight too quickly though, because this could cause problems with your liver.
“Exercise will help you to lose any excess weight you may have. It may also help to reduce damage to your liver even if you don’t successfully lose any weight.”
Improving your diet can also be a buffer against the condition worsening.
“Choose a healthy plant-based diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats,” advises the Mayo Clinic.
What causes it?
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 the following:
- 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.
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