Fatty liver disease symptoms: The ‘urgent’ warning sign in the ‘lower tummy area’

Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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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. It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. The condition can prove life-threatening if not addressed. Unfortunately, it is easy to stumble into the danger zone because there are usually no symptoms in the beginning.

However, NAFLD can progress through a number of stages that cause visible changes in the body.

These stages include non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – a more serious form of NAFLD – and fibrosis – where persistent inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver.

According to the British Liver Trust (BLT), “swelling of the lower tummy area (ascites)” may signal NAFLD has progressed to the later-stages.

Other warning signs include:

  • Yellowness of the eyes and skin (jaundice)
  • Bruising easily
  • Dark urine
  • Vomiting blood (haematemesis)
  • Dark black tarry faeces (melena)
  • Periods of confusion or poor memory (encephalopathy)
  • Itching skin (pruritus).

People with a liver condition who develop any of the above symptoms should seek “urgent medical attention”, advises BLT.

How is NAFLD diagnosed?

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 blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.

As the NHS explains, the condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy.


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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 (scarring of the liver).

However, there are strong associations with poor health markers.

According to Mayo Clinic, NAFLD and NASH are both 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 (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 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.”

Can it be cured?

Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific treatments yet for NAFLD.

“Your doctor will encourage you to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent your condition getting worse,” explains Bupa.

However, losing excess weight “can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver”, explains the health body.

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

Other mitigating tips include:

  • Exercising more
  • Moderating alcohol consumption.

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