A HEALTHY liver should contain little or no fat. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the term for many conditions caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. It’s estimated up to one in every three people in the UK has early stages of this disease.
It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese, and there a number of symptoms and stages to be mindful of. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is not caused by drinking too much alcohol. There’s currently no specific medication for NAFLD, but a healthy diet can help.
Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse.
The damage leads to scarring, known as fibrosis. Irregular bumps replace the smooth liver tissue and the liver becomes harder.
Together, the scarring and the nodules are called cirrhosis.
If you have cirrhosis, you may develop some “red flag” symptoms, according to the British Liver Foundation.
The organisation states that there are certain symptoms “you must see a doctor straight away” about, especially if you have recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis.
These signs include a fever with high temperatures and shivers, as this is often caused by an infection.
You should also see a doctor immediately if you have shortness of breath, are vomiting blood, have very dark or black tarry stools, or are having periods of mental confusion or drowsiness.
“Although these symptoms may seem very different, because your liver is responsible for so many different functions, if it stops working properly, a range of problems can result,” states the organisation.
According to the NHS there are several risk factors for developing the disease.
These include if you are obese or overweight, particularly if you have a lot of fat around your waist.
You may also be at increased risk if you have type 2 diabetes, have high blood pressure, have high cholesterol or metabolic syndrome.
The health body adds that age is also a risk factor, if you are over the age of 50, as is if you smoke.
“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,” says the NHS.
Nonetheless, there are some potential signs.
Occasionally people may experience a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss or weakness.
If cirrhosis develops, you can get more severe symptoms, such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes, says the NHS.
NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test, though blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.
If you’re diagnosed with NAFLD, further tests may be needed to determine which stage you have.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the main way of managing NAFLD.
“NAFLD is not caused by alcohol, but drinking may make it worse. It’s therefore advisable to cut down or stop drinking alcohol,” says the NHS.