Most of the people visiting my blog have already been confirmed with a fatty liver. But some also have some symptoms or just signs that they might have one.
Today, I decided to write this article about warning signs that you shouldn’t ignore – all of which might indicate that you have a fatty liver or a liver-related problem.
I am not a person advocating for self-diagnosis, nor deciding upon a diagnostic based on internet research. Always consult a doctor – and do so as soon as possible – if you have any symptoms, warnings signs or problems that make you believe that you might have a fatty liver.
So… what is a fatty liver aka NAFLD?
Put simply, fatty liver describes a condition in which healthy liver cells are “invaded” by fat deposits.
This invasion can contribute to inflammation, fibrosis (a type of scarring) and can eventually lead to cirrhosis.
When you have a fatty liver, its function begins to suffer. Normal liver functions include filtering of the blood (detoxification), hormone production, protein synthesis, digestion, and drug metabolism. When these functions are impaired, the health impacts can be severe.
Fatty liver is generally divided into two broad categories: alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver. You can read more in depth about what is a fatty liver in this WebMD article – we’re here today to focus on something else!
Risk factors for the non-alcoholic version of fatty liver disease include obesity, metabolic syndrome, type II diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, family history, and pregnancy.
All of these can be combined with a chaotic and unhealthy way of eating and lack of exercise.
Why Should You Care?
Fatty liver disease has emerged as the most common cause of liver dysfunction in many countries.
Even though extremely common (100 million Americans are estimated to have it, according to The Liver Foundation), it’s not something that should be taken lightly or, even worse, ignored.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with increased risk of death due to both heart problems and liver failure.
Liver failure occurs when fatty liver disease progresses to cirrhosis and/or liver cancer. In such cases, the fatty liver disease becomes an indication for transplantation.
5 warning signs of a fatty liver
Unfortunately, the most common symptom of early fatty liver disease is… no symptom.
For that reason, this disease state can continue to progress unchecked until significant damage has been done.
Symptoms of severe fatty liver disease are much more obvious, although some people get them in the early stages also.
It doesn’t help that many of these warning signs and symptoms can be caused by a multitude of other conditions, only one of which is NAFLD.
However, if you have risk factors for fatty liver disease, such as type II diabetes, family history of liver disease, Asian heritage, frequent intake of sweetened soft drinks and/or you are overweight, then fatty liver disease should remain a consideration.
Always consult a doctor because they are qualified to run the necessary investigations and tell you exactly what your problem is, after running lab tests and an ultrasound (at the very least).
Now here are the most common 5 warning signs that you might have a fatty liver:
1. Your belly is bigger than it should be
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with obesity and visceral obesity in particular.
If you are significantly overweight and carry this weight particularly in your abdomen (belly), then there is a significant risk that your liver is suffering.
But remember, even people who are not obese can suffer from non-alcoholic liver disease. At the same time, not all overweight or obese people have it.
2. Your “routine” blood work has your doctor worried
Findings such as high triglycerides, high fasting blood sugar, and excessive amounts of liver enzymes in your blood are all seen in fatty liver disease.
These findings are evidence that the liver can’t do its job like used to and that its damaged cells are “leaking” out their contents.
At the same time, people can have a fatty liver and still get normal blood test results (this was my case, for example).
3. You are tired, weak and can’t think straight
A healthy liver is a liver that can clean your blood and make sure toxins don’t build up. Once the liver has been sufficiently damaged by fatty build-up and/or scarring, its ability to function suffers.
The result is blood that isn’t as “clean” as it should be – leaving you feeling tired, weak and your thinking clouded.
Furthermore, the inflammation seen in fatty liver disease makes these symptoms even worse.
4. Your stomach hurts
A fatty liver is sometimes an enlarged liver. As the liver expands, it stretches the surrounding capsule, causing tenderness.
The tenderness is usually localized to the upper right side of your abdomen, under the ribcage.
Sometimes the liver becomes so enlarged that your doctor will be able to feel it during your physical exam.
5. You’ve lost interest in food
Inflammation, your body’s response to excessive amounts of fat invading your liver, releases chemicals into the blood stream, some of which can make food much less interesting.
As your appetite goes down, your weight can go down too. If this continues long enough, malnutrition can intensify the weakness, fatigue and thinking problems already mentioned above.
As fatty liver disease progresses, the symptoms can progress beyond the “non-specific” to those that are a lot more characteristic of liver problems.
Jaundice, ascites (fluid retention in the abdomen) and certain skin changes are some examples of more “classic” liver disease findings.
However, you don’t want to wait until those show up. Instead, if you find yourself suffering from any of the five warning signs listed above, have a discussion with your health care provider.
It is far better to overcall it, then miss the early stages of fatty liver disease. Remember, the sooner you have the diagnosis, the sooner you can do something about it and reverse it (like I did) by changing your diet and way of living.