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Fat buildup in the liver, known as fatty liver disease, often doesn’t show any symptoms. When it does, this is a sign that the condition has progressed so far that it cannot be reversed. The more advanced stages of the condition can leave you with some discomforting symptoms in your legs and abdomen.
Fat buildup can occur for a number of reasons. Excessive alcohol can be a cause.
The drink can adjust the processes in your liver, making it store more fat rather than break it down.
But most people suffer from a form called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), with roughly 25 to 30 percent of the liver disease being down to non-alcohol-related causes such as obesity.
When fat continues to build up in the liver in NAFLD, it can start to cause inflammation of the organ. When this happens, the diagnosis moves from NAFLD to a more severe condition called NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis).
Despite your liver being inflamed, in the early stages of NASH you’re still unlikely to get symptoms. But if NASH is coupled with Cirrhosis, where the liver becomes damaged then some physical symptoms can ensue, according to Penn Medicine.
The health body explains that people “with NASH who have liver damage (cirrhosis)” may experience “fluid buildup and swelling in the legs and abdomen”.
This is caused by increased pressure in the vein that moves blood through your liver, known as the portal vein.
The rise in blood pressure in the portal vein triggers fluid to build up around the body, including in the legs, ankles, and abdomen.
Swelling in the legs and ankles is known as an odema, whereas swelling in the abdomen is known as ascites.
Ascites often look like a beer belly, making it sometimes hard to detect.
Sometimes the portal vein may even rupture, known as varices. Varices can cause blood to seep into your stools, making them turn a black, tarry colour.
The blood may also seep into your vomit.
This internal bleeding can be life-threatening. Any blood in your stools or vomit should be reported to the hospital immediately.
According to the Mayo Clinic, jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin – is another common sign of liver cirrhosis.
“Jaundice occurs when the diseased liver doesn’t remove enough bilirubin, a blood waste product, from your blood,” states the health body.
“Jaundice causes yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes and darkening of urine.”
Other symptoms include:
One of the main causes of NAFLD is obesity. Although it’s difficult to reverse once it reaches NASH, it may be prevented with lifestyle decisions.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases says: “If you don’t have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)—nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)—you may be able to prevent these conditions by eating a healthy diet, limiting your portion sizes, and maintaining a healthy weight.”
The doctor may instruct you to make changes such as replacing saturated fats with unsaturated fats, and avoiding foods and drink high in sugar.
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