Sign on your legs and ankles of ‘severe’ fatty liver disease

Liver disease: Doctor discusses causes and symptoms

The liver is a vital organ that provides more than 500 essential functions for the body.

Therefore, any issues with the liver can be serious and far-reaching.

As the name suggests, fatty liver disease is caused by an excess of fat in the liver.

It is a separate condition to alcoholic liver disease – which is caused by years of binge drinking – although the symptoms can overlap.

In the early stages of fatty liver disease it often does not display symptoms, meaning it can go by undetected for years.

READ MORE Two signs of fatty liver disease that could be mistaken for heat stroke

This is dangerous as it can progress to cirrhosis, the final and most severe stage of the disease, which can result in liver failure and even death.

NHS Inform explains: “Cirrhosis is scarring of the liver caused by continuous, long-term liver damage.

“Scar tissue replaces healthy tissue in the liver and prevents the liver from working properly.

“The damage caused by cirrhosis can’t be reversed and can eventually become so extensive that your liver stops functioning. This is called liver failure.

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“Cirrhosis can be fatal if the liver fails.

“However, it usually takes years for the condition to reach this stage and treatment can help slow its progression.

“Each year in the UK, around 4,000 people die from cirrhosis and 700 people with the condition need a liver transplant to survive.”

One symptom of cirrhosis is swelling in the legs and ankles – known as oedema.

This is because damage to the liver can put pressure on the portal vein – which carries blood from the gastrointestinal tract, gallbladder, pancreas and spleen to the liver – resulting in a build up of fluid in certain areas.

This swelling can also affect the feet and tummy.

Signs of oedema include:

  • Swollen or puffy ankles, feet or legs
  • Shiny or stretched skin
  • Changes in skin colour, discomfort, stiffness and dents when you press on the skin.

Other, more common causes of oedema are: sitting for too long, pregnancy, an injury or an insect bite.

If you experience unexplained oedema you should speak to your doctor, especially if combined with other signs of fatty liver disease.

According to the NHS, fatty liver disease can also cause:

  • A dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy (over the lower right side of the ribs)
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice.

Ways to lower your risk of developing fatty liver disease include:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy, balanced diet.

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