Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
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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. It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. A healthy liver should contain little or no fat. Most people with NAFLD have no signs or symptoms, which is problematic because it can prove life-threatening if left unaddressed.
However, symptoms can occasionally surface. One telltale sign is “extreme fatigue”, warns the Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio (GCSA).
How do I know if I am fatigued?
The NHS explains: “We all experience tiredness at times, which can be relieved by sleep and rest.
“Fatigue is when the tiredness is often overwhelming and isn’t relieved by sleep and rest.”
The telltale sign is therefore waking up tired and feeling like you haven’t slept a wink despite getting a full night’s sleep.
According to GCSA, other signs of NAFLD include enlarged liver and pain in the upper right abdomen.
“Fatigue and abdominal pain are common symptoms of many other conditions which should be ruled out,” notes the health body.
Other causes of fatigue include:
- Sleep apnoea
- Underactive thyroid
- Coeliac disease
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Glandular fever.
How is NAFLD diagnosed?
Since there are not usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages, you probably will not know you have it unless it’s diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.
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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.
“The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy,” explains the NHS.
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?
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 liver scarring.
However, NAFLD has been linked to a number of chronic disease markers, notes the Mayo Clinic.
- 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,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
Can it be treated?
There aren’t any specific treatments yet for NAFLD.
“Your doctor will encourage you to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent your condition getting worse,” explains Bupa.
The health body adds: “Your doctor will also recommend treatment for any medical conditions or complications you may have because of your NAFLD.”
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