Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term for conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. NAFLD is highly pernicious because it is usually symptomless, yet progression can prove life-threatening. Occasionally, symptoms can surface and acting on them can ward off the threat of further complications.
According to open science platform Europe PMC, which pools together life science publications and preprints from trusted sources, irregular bowel habits is a “presenting symptom”.
Fatigue and right upper abdominal discomfort are also common presenting symptoms, notes the health platform.
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 health body explains, cirrhosis – long-term scarring to your liver – is particularly serious because it is irreversible.
Signs of cirrhosis include:
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy (oedema).
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.
However, NAFLD and NASH are both linked to a number of chronic disease precursors.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these include:
- 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 (a heart disease precursor), particularly triglycerides, in the blood.
“These combined health problems appear to promote the deposit of fat in the liver,” warns the health body.
“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 NAFLD be treated?
There is no specific treatment for NAFLD that all doctors agree on.
“However, if your NAFLD is linked to being overweight then you will be advised to make various lifestyle changes including losing weight gradually and taking sensible exercise,” explains the British Liver Trust (BLT).
According to the BLT, there is good evidence that gradual weight loss coupled with increased exercise can reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
“In mild cases of NAFLD doctors may concentrate on treating associated conditions, such as obesity and diabetes, which can cause fat to build up.”