Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms
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Non-alcoholic liver disease is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. The condition can prove life-threatening if it reaches the most severe stage. Unfortunately, symptoms may be absent in the earlier stages.
According to the NHS, cirrhosis is the most severe stage, which occurs after years of inflammation.
If you have cirrhosis, your “liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy”, explained the health body.
There are a number of “red flag” symptoms that signal you’ve reached this severe stage of NAFLD. explains the British Liver Trust (BLT).
- Fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
- Shortness of breath
- Vomiting blood
- Very dark or black tarry stools (faeces)
- Periods of mental confusion or drowsiness.
“If you have any of the following symptoms you must see a doctor straight away,” advises the BLT.
“Although these symptoms may seem very different, because your liver is responsible for so many different functions, if it stops working properly, a range of problems can result.”
How do doctors diagnose NAFLD?
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), doctors use your medical history, a physical exam, and tests to diagnose nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Your doctor will ask if you have a history of health conditions that make you more likely to develop NAFLD, such as:
- Overweight or obesity
- Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- High levels of triglycerides or abnormal levels of cholesterol in your blood
- Metabolic syndrome.
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“Your doctor will ask about diet and lifestyle factors that may make you more likely to develop NAFLD, such as a lack of physical activity, eating a diet high in sugar, or drinking sugary beverages,” adds NIDDK.
If other tests are inconclusive, “your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from your liver (liver biopsy)”, explains the Mayo Clinic.
“The tissue sample is examined in a laboratory to look for signs of inflammation and scarring.”
According to the health body, a liver biopsy can be uncomfortable, and it does have small risks that your doctor will review with you in detail.
“This procedure is performed by a needle insertion through the abdominal wall and into the liver.”
How to prevent NAFLD getting worse
If you have NAFLD, you can make lifestyle changes to help stop it getting worse.
Losing any excess weight is key to halting its progression.
Bupa explains: “This can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver.”
According to the health body, it’s important not to lose weight too quickly though, because this could cause problems with your liver.
Exercising regularly will help you to lose any excess weight you may have.
“It may also help to reduce damage to your liver even if you don’t successfully lose any weight,” notes Bupa.
UK health guidelines advise doing at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.
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