Fatty liver disease: The ‘general feeling’ which can indicate the condition – signs
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The British Liver Trust says NAFLD often causes no specific symptoms, even if the disease is at a later stage. The organisation says you may not show any symptoms for many years, but if you have NAFLD you may have “tiredness, fatigue or a general feeling of lethargy or having no energy”. Another key sign is discomfort on the upper right side of your tummy.
The organisation says if you develop any of the following symptoms tell a doctor straight away:
- Yellowness of the eyes and skin (jaundice) – this may be harder to notice if you have black or brown skin
- Bruising easily
- Dark urine
- Swelling of the tummy area (ascites)
- Vomiting blood
- Dark black tarry poo
- Periods of confusion, forgetting things, mood changes or poor judgement (encephalopathy)
- Itching skin
It adds: “Even if you have no symptoms, if you are at risk and are worried, ask your doctor for a test.”
If detected and managed at an early stage, NAFLD can be stopped from getting worse and the amount of fat in your liver can be reduced.
Most people will only ever develop the first stage, very often without realising it.
In a small number of cases, it can progress and lead to liver damage if not detected and managed.
A healthy liver should contain little or no fat, though the NHS estimates up to one in every three people in the UK has early stages of NAFLD, where there are small amounts of fat in their liver.
People with a liver condition who develop dark black tarry faeces, or dark urine, should seek “urgent medical attention”, according to the British Liver Trust.
Other serious symptoms include vomiting blood, bruising easily, itching skin and swelling of the lower tummy area.
The NHS says cirrhosis is “the most severe stage” of NAFLD occurring after years of inflammation.
The Mayo Clinic explains: “Each time your liver is injured — whether by disease, excessive alcohol consumption or another cause — it tries to repair itself. In the process, scar tissue forms.”
It says as cirrhosis progresses, more and more scar tissue forms, making it difficult for the liver to function.
The NHS says if a GP suspects cirrhosis, they’ll check your medical history and do a physical examination to look for signs of long-term liver disease.
The health body explains: “If tests show that you have cirrhosis, a GP should refer you to see a doctor who specialises in liver problems (hepatologist).”
The British Liver Trust explains: “Cirrhosis is sometimes called end-stage liver disease. This simply means it comes after the other stages of damage which can include inflammation (hepatitis), fatty deposits (steatosis) and increased stiffness and mild-scarring of your liver (fibrosis).”
The Trust says every year over 4,000 people in the UK die from cirrhosis and around 700 people have to have a liver transplant each year to survive.
It says: “You are not likely to feel any symptoms of cirrhosis early on. In fact, many people with cirrhosis only find out during tests for an unrelated illness.”
The organisation adds: “Acute fatty liver disease is not the same as NAFLD. Acute fatty liver can occur suddenly during pregnancy (acute fatty liver of pregnancy or AFLP) or due to certain drugs or toxins.”
The organisation says AFLP is a very rare condition. It occurs in about one in 20,000 pregnancies and is more common in first pregnancies, male babies and twins.
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