Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms
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The liver is one of our vital organs providing more than 500 functions. These include processing digested food and controlling levels of fat and sugar in the blood. It can also combat infections and destroy any toxins in the body.
However, certain lifestyles can have a negative impact on the liver.
For example, fatty liver disease – or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – refers to a range of liver conditions that are not linked to alcohol.
The major cause of fatty liver disease is having too much fat stored in the liver.
If fatty liver disease is not treated in its early stages it can lead to liver scarring, known as cirrhosis, and ultimately liver failure.
Therefore, it is vital any signs of this disease are picked up as soon as possible.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, some with fatty liver disease could experience “a feeling of fullness in the upper right side of the abdomen (belly)”.
Or they could suffer abdominal pain.
Other signs of fatty liver disease include:
- Loss of appetite or weight loss
- Yellowish skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Swollen abdomen and legs (oedema)
- Extreme tiredness or mental confusion
But sometimes the symptoms might not show until the disease is quite progressed.
The clinic warns: “People with fatty liver disease often have no symptoms until the disease progresses to cirrhosis of the liver.”
For many people, they will never reach the stage of cirrhosis.
“In most cases, fatty liver disease doesn’t cause any serious problems or prevent your liver from functioning normally,” the Cleveland Clinic says.
“But for seven to 30 percent of people with the condition, fatty liver disease gets worse over time.”
There are four stages to fatty liver disease, as listed by the NHS.
Steatosis – A largely harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells.
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – A more serious form of the disease, where the liver has become inflamed.
Fibrosis – Where persistent inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver and nearby blood vessels, but the liver is still able to function normally.
Cirrhosis – The most severe stage, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy.
This is permanent and can result in liver failure and liver cancer.
There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of fatty liver disease including:
- Being obese or overweight
- Having type 2 diabetes
- If you are insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- An underactive thyroid
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)
- If you are over the age of 50
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