Six ‘early symptoms’ of liver disease and you don’t have to be a binge drinker

There are several stages of alcohol-related fatty liver disease but, in order for signs of disease to show up, the liver has to be severely damaged.

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease (ARLD) can be caused by binge drinking, which is when a person consumes a large volume of alcohol in a short amount of time.

ARLD can also develop when a person drinks more than the recommended limits of alcohol – 14 units per week – over many years.

The NHS warns of the “early symptoms” of ARLD, such as:

  1. Abdominal pain
  2. Loss of appetite
  3. Fatigue
  4. Feeling sick
  5. Diarrhoea
  6. Feeling generally unwell.

These can be described as “quite vague” symptoms, especially as they could be attributed to a number of causes.

As the liver becomes more severely damaged, the following signs might include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet, due to a build-up of fluid
  • Swelling in your abdomen, due to a build-up of fluid known as ascites
  • A high temperature (fever) and shivering attacks
  • Very itchy skin
  • Hair loss
  • Unusually curved fingertips and nails (clubbed fingers)
  • Blotchy red palms
  • Significant weight loss
  • Weakness and muscle wasting
  • Confusion and memory problems, trouble sleeping (insomnia) and changes in your personality due to a build-up of toxins in the brain
  • Vomiting blood and black, tarry stools due to internal bleeding
  • A tendency to bleed and bruise more easily, such as frequent nosebleeds and bleeding gums
  • Increased sensitivity to alcohol  

A blood test that checks how well the liver is functioning can be revealing.

The NHS elaborates: “Blood tests used to assess the liver are known as liver function tests.”

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Blood tests can detect how much of the protein albumin you have which, if in short supply suggests the liver isn’t functioning well.

The NHS adds: “However, liver function tests can be normal at many stages of liver disease.”

Further testing might be needed to confirm ARLD, such as an ultrasound scan, a CT scan or an MRI scan.

“Some scans may also measure the stiffness of the liver, which is a good indication of whether your liver is scarred,” the health body notes.

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As for the recovery from ARLD, this is dependent on whether someone is willing to stop drinking alcohol.

Abstinence from alcohol is required in order to enable the liver to heal itself.

People might want the support of their doctor if they hope to stop drinking.

Alcohol support services include SMART Recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous (AA).

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