Liver disease: Doctor discusses causes and symptoms
The liver is one of our vital organs that provides more than 500 essential functions.
These include breaking down food and converting it into energy, and removing toxins from the blood.
Therefore, any issues with the liver can be dangerous and cause symptoms affecting a range of areas in the body.
As the name suggests, fatty liver disease occurs when there is too much fat in the liver.
This is often caused by factors such as being overweight and not exercising enough.
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While it initially might not cause any symptoms, the longer it goes untreated the more damaged your liver can become – leading to tell-tale signs.
The most severe and final stage of fatty liver disease is cirrhosis.
This is scarring of the liver that occurs after years of damage.
NHS Inform explains: “Scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver and prevents the liver from working properly.
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“The damage caused by cirrhosis can’t be reversed and can eventually become so extensive that your liver stops functioning. This is called liver failure.
“Cirrhosis can be fatal if the liver fails. However, it usually takes years for the condition to reach this stage and treatment can help slow its progression.
“Each year in the UK, around 4,000 people die from cirrhosis and 700 people with the condition need a liver transplant to survive.”
Quite often you will only experience symptoms if the disease has reached this stage.
According to the NHS, there is one symptom of cirrhosis that will be noticeable when brushing your teeth.
This is bleeding gums. It can also be accompanied by frequent nosebleeds and bruising.
Excessive bleeding occurs due to cirrhosis because when damaged the liver might slow or stop the production of proteins needed for blood clotting.
Other signs of cirrhosis to look out for include:
- Tiredness and weakness
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss and muscle wasting
- Feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- Tenderness or pain around the liver area
- Tiny red lines (blood capillaries) on the skin above waist level
- Very itchy skin
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Hair loss
- Fever and shivering attacks
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet due to a build-up of fluid (oedema)
- Swelling in your abdomen (tummy), due to a build-up of fluid known as ascites (severe cases can make you look heavily pregnant).
It can also cause changes in your personality, problems sleeping (insomnia), memory loss, confusion and difficulty concentrating.
In the later stages of cirrhosis you might find blood in your vomit or stools.
If you experience any symptoms of cirrhosis you should speak to your GP.
To lower your risk for fatty liver disease the NHS recommends:
- Losing weight if you are overweight
- Exercising regularly
- Eating a healthy balanced diet
- Quitting smoking.
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