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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. You can also get alcohol-related liver disease, which is liver damage that is caused by drinking too much alcohol. The American Liver Foundation says that if more than five to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver.
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.
There are not usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages, so the NHS says you probably will not know you have it unless it’s diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.
Nonetheless, the health body says that occasionally, people with NASH or fibrosis (more advanced stages of NAFLD) may experience a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy, extreme tiredness, unexplained weight loss or weakness.
The NHS adds that if the the most advanced stage develops, you can get more severe symptoms, “such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy (oedema).”
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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.
“Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse,” the NHS website states.
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.
People are more likely to develop NAFLD as a result of a number of factors. For example, if you are insulin resistant, as people can be when they have polycystic ovary syndrome.
You may need to cut it out of your diet, or reduce your intake. There’s not currently any medicine that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.
A doctor will help diagnose your condition correctly and give you the right advice and care plan.
If you develop severe cirrhosis, stage four fatty liver disease, and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
For adults, the average waiting time for a liver transplant is 135 days for transplants.
NAFLD is increasingly common around the world, especially in Western nations, according to the Mayo Clinic.
“Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs and symptoms that cause you concern,” it says.
Only a small number of people with NAFLD have more advanced stages.
The NHS warns that drinking a large amount of alcohol, even for just a few days, can lead to a build-up of fats in the liver. This is called alcoholic fatty liver disease, and is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD).
Stopping drinking can help improve alcohol-related liver disease, though a liver transplant may be needed if the damage to the liver is severe.
The NHS notes stopping drinking is not easy, especially as an estimated 70 percent of people with ARLD have an alcohol dependency problem.
You can contact your GP surgery or a specialist NHS service if you need help to stop.
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