Fatty liver disease symptoms: The warning signs of ‘inflammation and damage’

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The British Liver Trust explains that non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is caused by having too much fat in the liver. It is closely linked with being overweight as well as conditions such as type 2 diabetes and heart and circulatory disease. It explains: “Non-alcohol related steatohepatitis (NASH) is a more serious stage of NAFLD. In a small number of people it can lead to liver cancer or liver failure.”

NASH with mild fibrosis can cause “inflammation and damage in your liver”. NAFLD often causes no specific symptoms, even if the disease is at a later stage.The Trust says you may not show any symptoms for many years.

If you have NAFLD you may have:

  • Tiredness, fatigue or a general feeling of lethargy or having no energy
  • Discomfort on the upper right side of your tummy (where your liver is).

The organisation says if you develop any of the following symptoms tell a doctor straight away:

  • Yellowness of the eyes and skin (jaundice) – this may be harder to notice if you have black or brown skin
  • Bruising easily
  • Dark urine
  • Swelling of the tummy area (ascites)
  • Vomiting blood
  • Dark black tarry poo
  • Periods of confusion, forgetting things, mood changes or poor judgement (encephalopathy)
  • Itching skin.

The British Liver Trust says NAFLD often causes no specific symptoms, even if the disease is at a later stage. You may not show any symptoms for many years.

It explains: “NAFLD might only be diagnosed when it has become serious. Or you might only find out you have it during tests for another health problem.

“If your doctor thinks you have any form of liver disease they will try to find out what is causing it and how damaged your liver is.

“Doctors use a range of tests to get different information and build up an overall picture of what is happening.”

It says: “It is very important that the amount of scarring in your liver is tested as part of your NAFLD diagnosis. This is the main sign of how advanced your liver disease is.”

The organisation continues: “The main treatment for NAFLD is eating a healthy diet, being more physically active and (if needed) losing weight.

“This might seem like very general advice, but these steps all reduce liver fat and inflammation. For example, for people who are overweight, evidence shows losing five to 10 percent of their body weight can stop and sometimes even reverse liver damage.

“There are currently no medicines to specifically treat NAFLD. But there is a lot of research being done to develop some.”

“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.

The British Liver Trust says: “Acute fatty liver disease is not the same as NAFLD. Acute fatty liver can occur suddenly during pregnancy (acute fatty liver of pregnancy or AFLP) or due to certain drugs or toxins.”

The organisation says AFLP is a very rare condition. It occurs in about one in 20,000 pregnancies and is more common in first pregnancies, male babies and twins.

It warns: “Acute fatty liver of pregnancy is a very serious condition that can cause rapid liver and kidney failure and can be life-threatening for both mother and baby if not diagnosed.”

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