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Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms

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Also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, it is an “umbrella” term to describe a range of liver conditions that are not caused by alcohol. The main cause of fatty liver disease is having too much fat stored in the liver. If not caught in its early stages it can progress as far as cirrhosis (liver scarring) and, medicine 1940 ultimately, liver failure.

But, according to the Mayo Clinic, one early symptom some people might experience is fatigue – or extreme tiredness.

This can make “normal” activities such as going to work or running errands too tiring to complete.

Another early sign of the disease is “pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen”.

If you are concerned about these “persistent” symptoms you are advised to see a doctor.

Some people living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can then develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

The Mayo Clinic describes this as “an aggressive form of fatty liver disease, which is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure”.

It says: “This damage is similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol use.”

Early signs of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis include:

  • Abdominal swelling
  • Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Red palms
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

It is not fully known why “some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not”.

Although there are some factors that can make you more vulnerable to the condition.

These are:

  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity, particularly when fat is concentrated in the abdomen
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Sleep apnoea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Underactive pituitary gland.

The Mayo Clinic warns of the consequences of cirrhosis.

It says: “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.”

Cirrhosis can lead to:

  • Fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Swelling of veins in your oesophagus, which can rupture and bleed
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
  • Liver cancer
  • End-stage liver failure, which means the liver has stopped functioning.

It recommends some lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of fatty liver disease.

Choose a healthy diet – choose a healthy plant-based diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.

Maintain a healthy weight – if you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and get more exercise. If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising.

Exercise – exercise most days of the week. Get an OK from your doctor first if you haven’t been exercising regularly.

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