Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech signals fatty liver disease

Liver Disease: Expert discusses risks and symptoms

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As a vital organ the liver works to carry out more than 500 functions such as processing digested food and controlling blood sugar levels. It also fights infection in the body. So if you have any problems with your liver it can become dangerous.

Fatty liver disease – or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – is the name for a range of liver conditions that are not linked to alcohol.

As the name suggests, the main cause of fatty liver disease is having too much fat stored in the liver.

Although in its early stages it often doesn’t cause symptoms, it can progress as far as cirrhosis – or liver scarring – and even liver failure if not treated.

And some with fatty liver disease also develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis – an aggressive form of the disease, which makes you more likely to experience cirrhosis.

The Mayo Clinic explains: “The main complication of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is cirrhosis, which is late-stage scarring in the liver.

“Cirrhosis occurs in response to liver injury, such as the inflammation in non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.

“As the liver tries to halt inflammation, it produces areas of scarring (fibrosis).

“With continued inflammation, fibrosis spreads to take up more and more liver tissue.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech – also known as hepatic encephalopathy – are complications of cirrhosis.

Cirrhosis can also lead to:

  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Swelling of veins in your oesophagus (esophageal varices), which can rupture and bleed
  • Liver cancer
  • End-stage liver failure, which means the liver has stopped functioning.

The clinic lists potential early symptoms of fatty liver disease as fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen.

Later stage symptoms include:

  • Abdominal swelling (ascites)
  • Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin’s surface
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Red palms
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

“Make an appointment with your doctor if you have persistent signs and symptoms that cause you concern,” the clinic says.

It is not known exactly why some people develop fatty liver disease.

But there are a number of factors that can raise your risk of fatty liver disease including:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Having type 2 diabetes
  • If you are insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome
  • An underactive thyroid
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)
  • If you are over the age of 50
  • Smoking.

And non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is more common among older people, people with diabetes and people with body fat concentrated in the abdomen.

How to reduce your risk of fatty liver disease

The Mayo Clinic says: “Choose a healthy diet – choose a healthy plant-based diet that’s rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.

“Maintain a healthy weight – if you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and get more exercise.

“If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising.

“Exercise – exercise most days of the week. Get an OK from your doctor first if you haven’t been exercising regularly.”

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