Fatty liver disease: Early signs to spot – ‘Can lead to serious damage if it gets worse’
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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. “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 (BLT) says: “Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a general term for fatty liver disease that has not been caused by alcohol.”
In the UK most but not all cases of NAFLD are caused by overweight and obesity, according to the organisation .
Non-alcohol related steatohepatitis (NASH) is the second, more serious stage of NAFLD.
The charity warns: “If left alone NAFLD can get worse. Stage four of NAFLD is called cirrhosis, which can lead to life-threatening liver conditions including liver cancer and liver failure.”
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BLT says around one in five people with NAFLD go on to develop NASH, and one in five of those people who have NASH will go on to develop cirrhosis.
It warns that this means it is very important to speak to your doctor if you think you may be at any stage of NAFLD or have any concerns about your liver health.
The charity says it is estimated that one in three people in the UK are in the early stages of NAFLD.
Nonetheless it adds: “Many of those people may not even have been diagnosed with NAFLD. And most of them will never develop serious problems with their liver.”
The charity says NAFLD often causes no symptoms, and this is especially true in the early stages.
Nonetheless, it says if you have early stage NAFLD you may experience:
- Discomfort in the upper right part of your abdomen, where your liver is
The NHS says: “If cirrhosis (the most advanced stage) develops, you can get more severe symptoms, such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy (oedema).
“See a GP urgently or call 111 if you have any of these symptoms and have a liver condition.”
There is no medication specifically for fatty liver disease and doctors focus on helping you control factors that contribute to the condition.
Things like losing weight, eating healthily and regular exercise can help. NAFLD is not caused by alcohol, but drinking may make it worse. Therefore, you may need to cut it out of your diet, or reduce your intake.
A doctor will help diagnose your condition correctly and give you the right advice and care plan.
If you develop severe cirrhosis, stage four fatty liver disease, and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
The American liver foundation says that if more than five to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver. Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions.
For adults, the average waiting time for a liver transplant is 135 days for transplants.
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