Liver disease: Doctor discusses causes and symptoms
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We rely on our livers to carry out more than 500 important bodily functions. Therefore, any problems with the organ can affect areas of the body you might not expect. But the sooner you spot the signs that something is wrong, the sooner you can seek treatment.
As the name suggests, fatty liver disease is the name for a range of conditions caused by an excess of fat in the liver.
In its early stages it often doesn’t present with symptoms.
According to the NHS, “most” people will only ever experience the first stage of fatty liver disease, known as steatosis.
This is a “largely harmless” build-up of fat in the liver.
However, if the condition reaches the fourth and final stage, called cirrhosis, this is cause for concern.
NHS Inform explains: “Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by continuous, long-term liver damage.
“Scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver and prevents the liver from working properly.
“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.
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“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.”
There are three signs of cirrhosis that can appear on the skin.
- Having itchy skin
- Having yellow skin (jaundice)
- Bruising easily.
If you notice these symptoms it is worth seeing your GP.
Other signs of cirrhosis 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
- Yellowing of the whites of the eyes
- A tendency to bleed more easily, such as frequent nosebleeds or bleeding gums
- 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.
In the later stages of cirrhosis you might also notice black, tarry stools.
“This is because blood can’t flow through the liver properly, which causes an increase in blood pressure in the vein that carries blood from the gut to the liver (portal vein),” NHS Inform says.
“The increase in blood pressure forces blood through smaller, fragile vessels that line your stomach and gullet (varices).
“These can burst under high blood pressure, leading to internal bleeding, which is visible in vomit and/or stools.”
There are a number of factors that can raise your risk of fatty liver disease, including if you:
- Are obese or overweight
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Have a condition that affects how your body uses insulin
- Are insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- Have an underactive thyroid
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Have metabolic syndrome
- Are over the age of 50
If you think you have fatty liver disease you should see your GP.
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