Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
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Fatty liver disease describes the buildup of fat in your liver. There are two primary causes: excess alcohol consumption and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The latter is altogether more mysterious but it has been linked to chronic disease markers. It is vital to heed the warning signs of NAFLD if and when they emerge.
That’s because the condition can reach a stage where the liver starts to malfunction, which can prove life-threatening.
Unfortunately, most people with a fatty liver have no symptoms.
“However, some people have a nagging persistent pain in the upper right part of the tummy (abdomen), over an enlarged liver,” warns the NHS.
According to the health body, you may also feel generally tired.
“As most people do not have symptoms, the diagnosis is often first suspected when an abnormal scan or blood test result occurs,” it adds.
If one of these tests shows there might be a problem with your liver, your GP will ask if you have any symptoms and examine you.
According to Bupa, they’ll also ask you about your medical history and your lifestyle, and may weigh you to check your body mass index (BMI).
“It’s important to be honest about your lifestyle, and about how much and how often you drink alcohol,” advises the health body.
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As it explains, this will help your GP to make the right diagnosis of the type of fatty liver disease you may have.
“If your GP suspects you have liver damage, they may refer you to a hepatologist (a doctor who specialises in conditions of the liver).”
Am I at risk?
Experts don’t know exactly why some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not.
Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that progresses to liver scarring.
However, NAFLD has been linked to a number of precursors to chronic disease.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- Overweight or obesity
- Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
- High blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), 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,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
“For some people, this excess fat acts as a toxin to liver cells, causing liver inflammation and NASH, which may lead to a buildup of scar tissue in the liver.”
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease, which is marked by liver inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure.
It’s worth noting that NAFLD is not caused by alcohol, but drinking may make it worse.
“It’s therefore advisable to cut down or stop drinking alcohol,” advises the NHS.
To keep health risks from alcohol to a low level, both men and women are advised not to regularly drink more than 14 units a week.
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