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Fatty liver disease: Edema in your legs is a warning sign – what is it?

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Fatty liver disease whereby fat builds up in the cells of your liver. There are two main types of fatty liver disease – non-alcoholic and alcohol-related liver disease. As the name would suggest, the former isn’t caused by drinking too much alcohol. There are usually no symptoms of fatty liver disease but the condition causes perceptible changes in the later stages.

Other warning signs include:

  • Abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness in the upper right side of the abdomen (belly).
  • Nausea, loss of appetite or weight loss.
  • Yellowish skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
  • Extreme tiredness or mental confusion.
  • Weakness.

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?

According to the NHS, fatty liver disease is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out.

But blood tests do not always pick up fatty liver disease.

As the NHS explains, the condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy.

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This is a type of scan where sound waves are used to create an image of the inside of your body.

You may also need to have a transient elastography (a fibroscan). This is a non-invasive test, rather like having an a liver biopsy.

“In this test, your doctor will insert a very fine hollow needle into your liver to collect a small sample of tissue,” explains the NHS.

“This is done under local anaesthesia and the sample will be sent to a laboratory to be tested.”

How to treat fatty liver disease

There aren’t any specific treatments yet but lifestyle changes are usually recommended to stop it getting worse.

One of the most important tips to stave off worsening outcomes for fatty liver disease is to lose weight.

“This can reverse some of the build-up of fat and even some of the fibrosis in your liver,” explains Bupa.

A related intervention that helps to promote weight loss and can bring direct benefits for fatty liver disease management is exercise.

“It may also help to reduce damage to your liver even if you don’t successfully lose any weight,” explains Bupa.

You should also:

  • Choose whole grain carbohydrates (such as breads, rice and pasta) which are high in fibre.
  • Avoid food and drinks that are high in sugar.
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit.
  • Eat less saturated fat. Replace saturated fats with monounsaturated fats or polyunsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids. This may help reduce your risk of heart disease which can be linked to NAFLD.
  • Monitor your portion sizes, especially if you’re trying to lose weight.

Other treatment interventions

There’s not currently any medicine that can treat fatty liver disease but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.

“For example, your doctor may recommend medicine to treat high blood pressure, treat high cholesterol, treat type 2 diabetes and treat obesity,” explains the NHS.

It adds: “If you develop severe cirrhosis and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.”



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