Fatty liver disease – warning signs of a silent killer, one in three of us is already developing
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease often strikes without warning signs until it’s too late. The silent killer was among the list of evils that contributed to the death of George Michael
While many of us associate alcohol with liver disease, there is one insidious condition that experts fear is quickly becoming a silent epidemic.
The lesser-known non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (or NALFD) may be a hidden disease you’ve never encountered before – and one in three of us already develop it.
NALFD is a catch-all term for a number of conditions triggered by a buildup of fat in your liver. The condition is not caused by alcohol, but drinking alcohol can make it worse.
In 2016, NALFD’s profile skyrocketed after a coroner’s report listed it as one of the causes of death for pop superstar George Michael, who died aged just 53. When this disease is confused with other causes of liver disease (infections such as hepatitis or consuming only the recommended 14 units per week), it makes liver disease the leading cause of death in adults in the world. thirties and forties.
British Liver Trust chief executive Pamela Healy says many don’t realize how much of a risk factor weight can be: “The liver is as vital an organ as the heart, but people often don’t understand the importance of keeping it healthy. There are also many myths surrounding it.
“For example, many people think you have to be an alcoholic to develop liver disease, yet one in five of us drinks at a level that puts our liver at risk. Many also don’t realize that the being overweight is a major risk factor.”
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Liver diseases are mostly preventable, the organ being very resistant and the only one in the human body capable of regenerating itself.
So why does carrying a few extra pounds – not even necessarily being obese – raise such red flags? Basically, a healthy liver should contain little or no fat. Yet poor diets and being overweight mean that up to one in three people in the UK are now in the early stages of NAFLD.
This basically means that they already have small amounts of fat in their liver, which may not yet cause them a problem, but as the levels increase, the risk of high blood pressure, kidney problems and diabetes increases.
Initially, the fat accumulation causes no symptoms, but if left unchecked, it can turn into a more serious condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, where the liver becomes inflamed. Over time, this inflammation scars both the blood vessels and the liver. The unintended victim would still have no idea because the liver is able to function normally.
The NHS says some people may experience symptoms such as:
Problems usually became clear much later once cirrhosis set in, where years of inflammation cause the liver to become lumpy and shrink in size. At this stage, symptoms include:
- yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes
- itchy skin
- swelling of the legs, ankles, feet, or stomach
The damage is often irreversible and the risks of liver failure and liver cancer increase dramatically.
Because this disease is so rampant and often goes unnoticed, experts stress that lifestyle changes earlier in life are essential.
Professor Jonathan Fallowfield, head of liver research at the University of Edinburgh, said: “The 5% who get NASH are expected to rise to 7% by 2030.
“Overall, most people don’t know they have fatty liver. They are often thin on the outside and fat on the inside. They tend to carry visceral fat around the abdomen and rarely show symptoms other than fatigue.
Professor Fallowfield says that although NAFLD is not strictly alcohol-related, there is major overlap with liver disease caused by alcohol. Essentially, people who drink too much are more likely to have poor diets and lifestyles.
The professor says the best treatment for NAFLD is simply to lose weight.
“You only need to lose about 10% of your body weight to reverse it and possibly even reverse liver fibrosis, improving your quality of life,” he says.