Fatty liver disease: The sign on your skin – you ‘should seek urgent medical attention’

Pensioner covered in fatty tumours after drinking heavily for 30 years

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A healthy liver should contain little or no fat, though the NHS estimates up to one in every three people in the UK has early stages of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), where there are small amounts of fat in their liver. Although the condition is often marked by an absence of symptoms, there are certain signs to look out for.

The British Liver Trust says that NAFLD often causes no symptoms, and “this is especially true in the early stages”.

The organisation says that if you have early stage NAFLD you may experience tiredness and discomfort in the upper right part of your abdomen, where your liver is.

Stages of the condition such as NASH, fibrosis and cirrhosis may not show symptoms for many years, though there are several signs that people with a liver condition “should seek urgent medical attention”.

One sign on your skin is itching and another is yellowness of the eyes and skin (jaundice).

The British Liver Trust has also outlined a number of other signs that you should seek medical attention for including:

  • Bruising easily
  • Dark urine
  • Swelling of the lower tummy area (ascites)
  • Vomiting blood (haematemesis)
  • Dark black tarry faeces (melena)
  • Periods of confusion or poor memory (encephalopathy)

There are also some “red flag” signs. The organisation says: “If you have any of the following symptoms you must see a doctor straight away, especially if you have recently been diagnosed with cirrhosis:

  • Fever with high temperatures and shivers, often caused by an infection
  • Shortness of breath
  • Vomiting blood
  • Very dark or black tarry stools (faeces)
  • Periods of mental confusion or drowsiness.”

The American liver foundation says that if more than five to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver.

Having high levels of fat in your liver is associated with an increased risk of other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.

People are more likely to develop NAFLD as a result of a number of factors. For example, if you are insulin resistant, as people can be when they have polycystic ovary syndrome. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.

Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions.

There’s not currently any medicine that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.

A doctor will help diagnose your condition correctly and give you the right advice and care plan.

If you develop severe cirrhosis, stage four fatty liver disease, and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.

For adults, the average waiting time for a liver transplant is 135 days for transplants.

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