Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms
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Fatty liver disease is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver and is therefore usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. In its early stages it’s quite common to not show any signs of the disease, meaning it can go undetected. However, in its later stages a series of complications will arise.
According to the Mayo Clinic, patients who have reached the fourth and most serious stage of fatty liver disease could then experience slurred speech, confusion and drowsiness.
This is known as hepatic encephalopathy, which occurs if toxins from a damaged liver build up in the bloodstream and enter the brain.
If a person experiences this, it means the liver is shrunken and badly scarred – a condition known as cirrhosis.
At this stage the person should seek urgent medical help if they haven’t already.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “The main complication of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (an aggressive form of the disease) is cirrhosis, which is late-stage scarring in the liver.
“Cirrhosis occurs in response to liver injury, such as the inflammation in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
“As the liver tries to halt inflammation, it produces areas of scarring (fibrosis). With continued inflammation, fibrosis spreads to take up more and more liver tissue.”
There are other complications of cirrhosis to look out for.
- Fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites)
- Swelling of veins in your oesophagus, which can rupture and bleed
- Liver cancer
- End-stage liver failure, which means the liver has stopped functioning.
Although there is no definite cause of fatty liver disease there are certain factors that can put you at risk, such as:
- Being overweight or obese
- Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
- High levels of fats, particularly triglycerides, in the blood.
“These combined health problems appear to promote the deposit of fat in the liver,” the Mayo Clinic says.
“For some people, this excess fat acts as a toxin to liver cells, causing liver inflammation and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which may lead to a build-up of scar tissue in the liver.”
Other signs of potential liver disease are:
- Pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen.
And other symptoms of cirrhosis include:
- Abdominal swelling
- Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface
- Enlarged spleen
- Red palms
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
The Mayo Clinic advises a number of lifestyle choices to reduce your risk of fatty liver disease, including eating healthily, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising most days of the week.
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