Symptoms of fatty liver disease include confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech

As a vital organ, the liver performs over 500 functions such as processing digested food and controlling blood sugar. It also fights infections in the body. So if you have 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 alcohol-related.

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 causes no symptoms, it can progress to cirrhosis – or scarring of the liver – and even liver failure if left untreated.

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

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The Mayo Clinic explains, “The main complication of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is cirrhosis, which is delayed scarring of the liver.

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

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

“With continued inflammation, the fibrosis spreads to absorb more and more liver tissue.”

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Confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech — also known as hepatic encephalopathy — are complications of cirrhosis, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Cirrhosis can also cause:

  • Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Swelling of the veins in the esophagus (esophageal varices), which may rupture and bleed
  • Liver cancer
  • End-stage liver failure, which means the liver has stopped working.

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

Later stage symptoms include:

  • Abdominal swelling (ascites)
  • Enlarged blood vessels just below the surface of the skin
  • Enlarged spleen
  • red palm trees
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).

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

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

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

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Have type 2 diabetes
  • If you are insulin resistant, 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 50
  • Smoking.

And nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is more common in older people, people with diabetes, and people whose body fat is 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 rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.”

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

“If you are at a healthy weight, try to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising.

“Exercise – exercise most days of the week. Check with your doctor first if you are not exercising regularly.

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