Fatty liver disease symptoms: The specific type of pain that can signal the condition

Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms

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Fatty liver disease is characterised by an accumulation of fat in the liver. If the fatty build-up is not caused by drinking too much alcohol, it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If left untreated, NAFLD can progress to life-threatening complications, such as liver scarring (cirrhosis).

Unfortunately, the progression of NAFLD – at least initially – does not usually present symptoms.

However, “if symptoms do occur, they include right upper quadrant pain”, notes an article published in the journal EMJ.

The right upper quadrant is a section of your tummy (abdomen).

It houses many important organs, including parts of your liver, right kidney, gallbladder, pancreas, and large and small intestine.

According to the journal article, fatigue can also be an indicator of NAFLD.

How NAFLD is diagnosed

The lack of symptoms accompanying NAFLD means the condition is usually diagnosed via a blood test.

The NHS explains: “NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out.”

But, as the health body points out, blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.

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“The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy,” it explains.

This is a type of scan where sound waves are used to create an image of the inside of your body.

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 cirrhosis.

According to the Mayo Clinic, NAFLD has been linked to the following:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia), 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 health body.

It adds: “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.

How to stop NAFLD getting worse

If you have NAFLD, you can make lifestyle changes to help stop it getting worse.

One of the most effective interventions you can make is to lose any excess weight.

“This can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver,” explains Bupa.

The health body adds: “It’s important not to lose weight too quickly though, because this could cause problems with your liver.”

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