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9 Crucial Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

9 Crucial Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

9 Crucial Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease
02 Jan 2024

The most common liver disorder is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This is the build up of excess fat in your liver cells, taking up almost 5 to 10 percent of the entire organ. Drinking too much alcohol is a major cause of fat building up in the liver but those with NAFLD may not drink small amounts or no alcohol at all. A healthy liver should have little to no fat. It has been estimated that nearly 1 in every 3 people in the UK have early stages of NAFLD where there are small amounts of fat accumulation in their liver.

Research shows it is a major cause of severe liver disease all over the world. Though it does not cause permanent damage, NAFLD may progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, resulting in cirrhosis or irreversible scarring of the liver or liver cancer.

NAFLD is usually asymptomatic, meaning there are no physical symptoms. You will need to consult your doctor if you have any risk factors for NAFLD. Doctors may choose several factors to diagnose the condition such as blood tests, abdominal ultrasound or liver biopsy.

Make sure you avoid habits that may be potentially damaging your liver. Here are 9 habits you need to consider:

1. You seem to overeat

One of the early fatty liver symptoms is binge eating which means feeling hungry all the time or having strong craving for sugar. These eating habits will add to the fat which has already accumulated in your liver. It is important to know what you are eating for taking proper care of your health. When you consume calories in excess, especially the ones that are carbohydrate-rich or sugar-rich for a longer time span, this will lead to negative consequences. Make sure you maintain a log of what you are eating daily to assess your sugar and fat intake. This will help you know if your eating habits are something that can be contributing towards a fatty liver.

2. You are diagnosed with type 2 diabetes

Having NAFLD might not affect your daily activities initially, although this may change over time. One contributing factor is elevated blood glucose levels, such as in diabetes. According to studies, the 3-month blood glucose levels of people with NAFLD have determined their chances of getting severe cirrhosis, leading to liver failure. Another study found that NAFLD can cause glucose overproduction resulting in abnormal blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. This can develop into prediabetes and type 2 diabetes in due course. Though NAFLD and diabetes do not cause each other, they can worsen each other and make both the conditions difficult to manage.

3. Your blood pressure is very high

According to research, people who have NAFLD were three times more likely to suffer from hypertension than those who did not have the disease.  Monitoring blood pressure levels and maintaining good heart health is important if you have, or think you suffer from, liver disease. Cardiovascular problems are the leading cause of death in people who have NAFLD.

4. You have high cholesterol

High blood fat levels such as triglycerides or LDL may denote too much fat has accumulated in the liver. The cholesterol measured in blood is mainly a product of what comes out of the liver. Your liver makes cholesterol on its own and then circulates it into the bloodstream. When you eat foods which have high amount of saturated as well as trans fats, this increases cholesterol levels. You need to see a doctor to check cholesterol levels and make sure they aren’t among the signs of fatty liver disease.

5. Your family member has had a fatty liver

If you have a family history of NASH or cirrhosis, then there are greater chances you will develop it too. This advanced stage of NAFLD has 13 times higher risk in the case a family member had this disease in the past. This is an ongoing study but other research shows evidence that some people may be genetically predisposed to this disease. You might suffer from this silent liver disease and yet not know about it.

6. You are frequently tired

NAFLD does not show any physical symptoms which make it almost impossible to detect without any blood tests or a liver biopsy. But when it progresses to cirrhosis, you may begin to experience common symptoms such as weakness and fatigue. As the effects of cirrhosis are permanent and could be the reason for cancer, it is important to see a doctor immediately in the case you develop symptoms of fatty liver and have previous risk factors.

7. You store weight in the belly

People who are overweight are at greater risk of getting NAFLD. As the obesity rate is on the rise, more than one-third of the population seem to be obese and the threat is more prevalent than before. The visceral fat which gets stored in your abdomen and gives you big gut is a big concern. Since the body mass index goes up and people go from a BMI of 30 to 35 to 40, the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease symptoms starts going up. Research is going on to find out that the visceral fat is properly correlated with your liver fat, especially during the middle-age and for young adults.

8. You experience pain in the upper right abdomen

People having NAFLD sometimes get pain below the ribs on the right front. This symptom does not show up unless you develop cirrhosis or NASH. During this point, fluid may collect in the abdomen and lead to pain. When the fluid gets infected, you will mostly suffer from pain, often with chills and fever and you may have to call your doctor. Having less severe tummy issue that can result from cirrhosis is due to loss of appetite. Make sure you know how acid reflux medication can cause damage to your liver.

9. You are easily confused

Confusion is another symptom for fatty liver which will show up later in the disease. As the liver cannot metabolize properly, the toxins it expels get into your bloodstream and can move into the brain. If you feel disoriented or your confusion worsens, it is suggested to visit your doctor immediately.

Fatty liver disease occurs when there is buildup of excess fat in the liver. This can happen with heavy intake of alcohol. In this case, it is what you call alcoholic fatty liver disease or AFLD. When fatty liver is there in someone who does not drink alcohol, it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD.

Risk factors for NAFLD

The main risk factors for NAFLD are the following:

  • type 2 diabetes
  • obesity or overweight
  • high cholesterol
  • metabolic syndrome
  • insulin resistance
  • high triglycerides

Some other risk factors for NAFLD are:

  • pregnancy
  • old age
  • family record of liver disease
  • polycystic ovary syndrome or PCOS
  • exposure to certain toxins
  • rapid weight loss
  • history of certain infections including hepatitis C
  • obstructive sleep apnea
  • rare genetic conditions such as hypobetalipoproteinemia or Wilson disease
  • taking certain medications such as – amiodarone (Pacerone), methotrexate (Trexall) and tamoxifen (Nolvadex)

Having risk factors means you are at greater risk of fatty liver disease when compared with people who do not have such risk factors. It does not mean you will certainly develop it in future. If you are having one or more risk factors for fatty liver disease, speak with the doctor about prevention strategies.

How to prevent it

It is necessary to maintain healthy lifestyle and prevent fatty liver as well as other complications related to it. Some prevention tips include the following:

  • maintaining the weight of your body
  • restricting the intake of or avoiding alcohol
  • eating nutrient-rich diet which is low in refined carbohydrates, saturated fat and trans fat
  • follow the suggested treatment plan for diabetes when you have this condition
  • steps to manage blood sugar, cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels
  • exercise for at least 30 minutes during most weekdays

Many people with fatty liver disease do not show significant symptoms till there is severe liver damage. When there are early symptoms, this can be nonspecific and include things such as tiredness and upper right abdominal pain. The main treatment for fatty liver disease is making some changes in your lifestyle for promoting liver health. It is quite possible for the damage caused by fatty liver disease to be reversed when you treat it as soon as possible. You can book an appointment at our clinic for liver function test and get treatment at the early stage.