Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
Fatty liver disease has been linked to being overweight, insulin resistance, high blood sugar levels and high levels of fats in the blood. While it doesn’t usually cause harm in the early stages, it can lead to serious liver damage, including a condition known as cirrhosis, if it gets worse.
Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver. The scar tissue prevents the liver working properly.
Fatty liver disease doesn’t usually cause any symptoms, but when it does, signs may include fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen, advises Mayo Clinic.
Some individuals with fatty liver disease can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, an “aggressive” form of the condition, it adds.
When this happens, other symptoms may develop, including red palms.
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Red palms are also known as palmar erythema, or liver palms, and the reddening typically occurs on the lower part of the palm.
The redness in the palms is caused by dilated capillaries in the hands which draw more blood to the surface.
Other symptoms of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis include:
- Abdominal swelling (ascites)
- Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface
- Enlarged spleen
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
The NHS says you’re at risk of fatty liver disease if you:
- are obese or overweight – particularly if you have a lot of fat around your waist (an “apple-like” body shape)
- have type 2 diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have high cholesterol
- have metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)
- are over the age of 50
But the condition has been diagnosed in people without any of these risk factors, including young children.
Most people with fatty liver disease will not develop any serious problems, advises the health body, but if you’re diagnosed with the condition it’s a good idea to take steps to stop it getting worse.
It advises losing weight, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and stopping smoking.
Having high levels of fat in your liver is associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
But fatty liver disease develops in stages. The first stage is “simple fatty liver (steatosis)”. The NHS explains this is a largely harmless build-up of faty in the liver cells that may only be diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.
The second stage is “non-alcoholic steatohepatitis”, which the health body describes as a more serious form of fatty liver disease, where the liver has become inflamed. This is estimated to affect up to 5 percent of the UK population.
The third stage is fibrosis. This is where persistent inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver and nearby blood vessels, but the liver is still able to function normally.
The fourth stage is cirrhosis – the most severe stage. This occurs after years of inflammation, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy.
This damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.
If you suspect you have fatty liver disease, speak to your GP.
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