Fatty liver disease: A belly ache could be a tell-tale sign you have the condition

Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is usually seen in people who are overweight. There are four main stages of the condition as it worsens. When it enters the second stage, inflammation occurs. The NHS identified the four progressive stages of fatty liver disease:

  1. Simple fatty liver – steatosis
  2. Non-Alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
  3. Fibrosis
  4. Cirrhosis

In the first stage, the build-up of fat in the liver is “largely harmless”.

However, when there’s too much fat cells in the liver, the organ becomes inflamed.

Signs of an inflamed liver include a belly ache, which may feel like a dull or achey pain.

In particular, the pain is located “in the top right of the tummy, over the lower right side of the ribs”.

Other warning signs of NASH include: fatigue, unexplained weight loss, and weakness.

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These symptoms of NASH could also be indicative of the third stage – fibrosis.

Fibrosis occurs when persistent inflammation in the liver causes scar tissue to form.

Scar tissue can affect the liver and the nearby blood vessels yet, at this stage, the liver is still able to function normally.

It’s when fibrosis develops into cirrhosis when real health risks can occur.

Cirrhosis occurs after years of liver inflammation; the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy.

This type of liver damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

Signs of cirrhosis include yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy.

Am I at risk of fatty liver disease?

You’re at an increased risk of fatty liver disease if any of these factors apply to you:

  • You’re overweight
  • You have type 2 diabetes
  • You have high blood pressure
  • You have high cholesterol
  • You are over the age of 50
  • You smoke

A liver function test can be arranged by your GP if you’re concerned you have fatty liver disease.

It’s a blood test, but the results don’t always pick up on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The condition may be noticed during an ultrasound of the tummy, which may need further investigation.

“If you’re diagnosed with the condition it’s a good idea to take steps to stop it getting any worse,” said the NHS.

At present, there’s no specific medication for NAFLD but treating other underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, might help.

Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the main way of managing NAFLD, which involves aiming for a body mass index (BMI) of 18.5-24.9.

“Losing more than 10 percent of your weight can remove some fat from the liver and improve NASH if you have it,” said the NHS.

One must also eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and not smoke.

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