I think most people have heard of fatty liver disease, but tend to put it down to something that only alcoholics or heavy drinkers suffer wrong, but that would be a very wrong impression indeed.
NAFLD, or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is an all-encompassing terms for a host of things that can happen in the body, as a result of fat in the liver. It’s often seen in people who are overweight or obese. The reason for that, is a healthy liver should have very little, or pretty much, zero fat, but there is a significant amount of people here in the UK, who are in the early stages of NAFLD, and have some fat in their liver.
Don’t be too alarmed though, as the early stages don’t often cause many problems, says the NHS Choices website,
Early-stage NAFLD doesn’t usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse. Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of problems such as diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. If detected and managed at an early stage, it’s possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
From what I have learned, the first stage of NAFLD is where the majority of people with the early condition will remain. In a few people, this can move on and lead to future liver damage if it isn’t picked up and treated early enough.
Is that enough for us to worry about? I think so, but how easy it is to monitor is another story.
I’ll refer back to the NHS again for the four stages of the condition.
simple fatty liver (steatosis) – a largely harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells that may only be diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason
non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – a more serious form of NAFLD, where the liver has become inflamed; this is estimated to affect up to 5% of the UK population
fibrosis – where persistent inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver and nearby blood vessels, but the liver is still able to function normally
cirrhosis – the most severe stage, occurring after years of inflammation, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy; this damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure (where your liver stops working properly) and liver cancer
It can take years for fibrosis or cirrhosis to develop. It’s important to make lifestyle changes to prevent the disease from getting worse.
As someone who did have liver abnormalities for a while, it does make sense to check out the possibilities, and make some changes to do something about it. There are risk factors that we should take into account though.
- being overweight.
- having an apple type shape, ie fat around the waist.
- suffer from high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
- have, or are at risk of type 2 diabetes.
- over 50’s
It’s important to remember that people have been diagnosed with NAFLD, in the absence of these risk factors, and it isn’t related to the liver disease associated with drinking too much alcohol.
How Do I Know if I Have It?
At the early stages, it’s unlikely you would notice anything. It might come up as part of blood work from your GP, or as part of a full check up for diabetes or something else. If someone is further on in the disease, they might have some pain in the top right of their stomach, extreme fatigue, or weight loss when they haven’t been trying to lose weight.
At the most advanced stage of the disease, cirrhosis can occur, which we are more used to hearing in relation to alcoholic fatty liver disease, but it also affects the non alcoholic fatty liver disease sufferers. At Cirrhosis, the skin and whites of the eyes may turn yellow, there may be swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or stomach, and skin may become itchy.
What Can I Do If I Have I?
In advanced stages, you should take your lead from your doctors, who know you best.
In mild conditions, your doctors will make suggestions for you to help stop your condition deteriorating.
Helping this disease stay in check, is going to revolve around making healthy lifestyle decisions, and receive treatment for any other conditions that may affect your NAFLD.
You will be invited to appointments with your doctors, and possibly an ultrasound to check your liver.
What Does Healthy Lifestyle Mean
In reality, this means different things to different people. Ask ten different people, and you might get ten different answers.
The short answer is to:
- eat healthily, including foods from all food groups. Take advice if you struggle with this.
- keep weight at a healthy level. Aim for a healthy BMI.
- exercise regularly. Even walking for a couple of hours a week is a benefit for our health. Consult your doctor before embarking on any new diet and exercise regime.
- if you smoke, stop.