Roughly one in three are believed to have the early stages of fat buildup in their liver that isn’t linked to alcohol – known as non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Unfortunately, the signs don’t often occur till your liver has become “strained” by the disease. One of the more noticeable signs is a painful sensation in your body.
Pain in the upper right area of your tummy is “potentially the clearest sign of a strained liver, though unlikely to appear in the early days of liver damage,” explains Liver Health UK.
The pain is more likely to be a sign of liver cirrhosis, although the British Liver Trust lists it as an “early” cirrhosis symptom.
The buildup of fat in the liver can damage the organ and result in it becoming inflamed and scarred over time. This scarring of the liver is known as cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis can become a medical emergency. If it progresses, your liver can start to fail, which can ultimately lead to death.
The NHS recommends that you “see a GP if you think you may have cirrhosis”. However, the health body Mount Sinai recommends you “get emergency medical help right away” if you develop abdominal or chest pain.
Fatty liver disease can be related to excessive alcohol consumption, as well as other factors. If the condition isn’t caused by alcohol consumption it is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
One of the causes of this liver damage is being overweight and obese. According to the British Liver Trust, these categories are occupied by roughly 63 percent of the UK population.
Liver Health UK said: “A BMI of over 30 significantly correlates with the prevalence of NAFLD. If you have visible abdomen fat giving a bigger gut, then it [sic] time to change your lifestyle to reduce the excess fat.”
Fatigue and generally feeling unwell a lot of the time are other signs of cirrhosis. It’s not entirely clear why cirrhosis brings about fatigue, Doctor Mark Swain explained in a study titled “Fatigue in liver disease: Pathophysiology and clinical management”.
But Doctor Swain suggested it may be related to changes in your brain.
He explains that “it appears to involve changes in central neurotransmission, which result from signaling between the diseased liver and the brain.”
Fatigue is not the only consequence of cirrhosis affecting your nervous system. The condition is known to cause a lot of disruption in the brain, known as Hepatic Encephalopathy.
This can bring on symptoms like forgetfulness, confusion, and memory loss.
The disruption is because the liver is responsible for removing toxins like ammonia from your blood. But when the organ stops working properly in cirrhosis, toxins start to accumulate in your blood. They eventually reach your brain where they can interfere with its processes.
However, the British Liver Trust explains that these are “later symptoms” that occur “as the liver is struggling to function”.
According to the health body, other early symptoms of cirrhosis that you might notice include:
- generally feeling unwell and tired all the time
- loss of appetite
- loss of weight and muscle wasting
- feeling sick (nausea) and vomiting
- tenderness/pain in the liver area
- spider-like small blood capillaries on the skin above waist level (spider angiomas)
- blotchy red palms
- disturbed sleep pattern
What to do if you think you might have cirrhosis
If you visit your doctor, they will look at your medical history and do physical tests to figure out if you have any signs of long-term liver disease.
They may also go on to provide blood tests, and several scans like an ultrasound, CT, or MRI scan.
They may also give you a liver biopsy: removing a bit of liver to look at it under a microscope.
If you are confirmed to have cirrhosis, you’ll be referred to see a specialist.
Unfortunately, there’s no cure for cirrhosis. Any treatment is to prevent the condition from getting worse. You may be advised to cut out or reduce your drinking, if you drink, or lose weight.