Liver disease: Doctor discusses causes and symptoms
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Livers are a vital organ, performing more than 500 functions for the body. These include fighting infections and processing digested food. Any problems with the liver, therefore, can be dangerous.
Also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, fatty liver disease is the name for any condition of the liver not caused by alcohol.
It is often linked to eating too much fatty food and being overweight.
In its earliest stages it often doesn’t display symptoms making it hard to catch.
However, if it progresses it can reach the fourth and most severe stage – called cirrhosis.
This is scarring of the liver caused by years of damage to the organ.
As a result it becomes lumpy and shrivelled.
If not treated, cirrhosis can lead to life-threatening conditions like liver failure and even cancer.
One sign of cirrhosis is ascites, which is the build-up of fluid in your abdomen.
In extreme cases this could make you look “heavily pregnant”.
NHS Inform explains: “Swelling in your abdomen (tummy), due to a build-up of fluid known as ascites (severe cases can make you look heavily pregnant).”
The Cleveland Clinic adds: “When you have cirrhosis, your liver doesn’t function as it should.
“The decrease in liver function combines with portal hypertension to cause ascites symptoms.
“Portal hypertension is high pressure in the portal vein that delivers blood to your liver.
“The high pressure causes fluid to leak out of your veins into your belly and collect there.”
Other symptoms of cirrhosis include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss and muscle wasting
- Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- Tenderness or pain around the liver area
- Tiny red lines (blood capillaries) on the skin above waist level
- Very itchy skin
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- A tendency to bleed and bruise more easily, such as frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums
- Hair loss
- Fever and shivering attacks
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet due to a build-up of fluid (oedema).
Late-stage cirrhosis is even more concerning and can present with other symptoms.
“In the later stages of cirrhosis, you may vomit blood or have tarry, black stools,” NHS Inform says.
“This is because blood can’t flow through the liver properly, which causes an increase in blood pressure in the vein that carries blood from the gut to the liver (portal vein).
“The increase in blood pressure forces blood through smaller, fragile vessels that line your stomach and gullet (varices).
“These can burst under high blood pressure, leading to internal bleeding, which is visible in vomit and/or stools.”
If you notice any symptoms of fatty liver disease you should see a GP as soon as possible.
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