The liver is a vital organ with many functions, such as the metabolism of nutrients, production of bile and urea, removal of toxins from the blood, and storage of some vitamins and minerals.
When there is excess fat in the liver, an inflammatory response is triggered. This causes antibodies to attack and damage liver cells. Damaged liver cells cannot function like healthy ones. So the liver cannot detox and perform its other tasks, causing more fat to accumulate.
This condition is called fatty liver disease, or “hepatic steatosis”. Fatty liver is the most common form of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
Small amounts of fat accumulation are harmless, but not when it exceeds 5 to 10 percent of the liver’s weight. As the liver becomes fattier, it can cause fibrosis and cirrhosis – the severe scarring and irreversible stage of liver disease.
Now that we know why fatty liver is dangerous, let’s get into the 7 signs and symptoms of this disease.
Number 7. “Higher Blood Liver Enzymes.”
The liver produces several enzymes to metabolize nutrients, drugs, toxic chemicals, and other metabolites (products of metabolism). Liver Aspartate Aminotransferase (AST) and Alanine Aminotransferase (ALT) are the main enzymes that show liver damage. Studies showed that 25 to over 50% of fatty liver disease patients have elevated blood AST and ALT levels. An increase in blood ALT levels is more specific to liver damage, while AST can also be increased because of thyroid and muscle diseases. An increase in these enzymes could be a sign of fatty liver disease.
Weakness & Fatigue.”
If you lack self-motivation for physical and mental activities, experience muscle weakness, or feel sleepy, you may have fatigue because of fatty liver disease.
In one study done in 2008, fatigue was higher in patients with fatty liver disease. That’s not surprising, considering the liver’s central role in energy metabolism. The liver communicates with the skeletal system, intestines, nervous system, and adipose tissue, where fats are stored. As fat builds up in the liver, this communication is disrupted, and the muscles, intestines, and nerves start to not function properly.
Number 5. “Edema & Abdominal Pain.”
Fat accumulation causes inflammation of the liver cells. Inflammation causes immune cells to attack tissue. Damage in tissue can cause fluid retention and edema. You may feel pain or discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen where the liver is located. Another reason for pain could be bile duct stones that accumulate because of fatty liver disease.
Number 4. “Appetite & Weight Loss.”
In liver damage, especially in the severe stage of fat accumulation, hormones that regulate hunger become disrupted. Leptin is a hormone that modulates appetite and reduces food consumption. When leptin levels are above the normal average, it can cause loss of appetite and lead to weight loss.
Number 3. “Gastrointestinal Issues.”
Gastrointestinal issues involve the digestive system organs – mouth, stomach, and intestines. In a study done in 2019, gastrointestinal symptoms of patients with liver cirrhosis were assessed. The most common were abdominal bloating with nearly 50%. Also, 13.3% of patients experienced diarrhea, and 8% of patients experienced constipation.
Number 2. “Nausea & Acid Reflux.”
A study done in 2009 showed that gastroesophageal reflux was more prevalent in patients with fatty liver disease. Also, these patients experienced more heartburn and belching.
Gastroesophageal reflux is a condition in which stomach fluid move back up to the esophagus. It can cause nausea and vomiting. Another reason is that toxins and waste products cannot be eliminated by the liver, and as a result, damage the stomach and esophagus mucosa, resulting in reflux.
Number 1. “Bruising & Bleeding.”
The liver produces a hormone TPO that regulates production of platelet, which is a type of blood cell that helps to clot to stop bleeding. Platelet production is decreased in cirrhosis, the severe stage of fatty liver disease. When blood cannot clot, bruising, even bleeding, can occur in injury. A person may also experience jaundice, itching, and swelling.
There you have it! The 7 symptoms of fatty liver. If you observe these symptoms, get a blood test, ultrasound, or biopsy to be sure about your liver function. However, this man-made disease can only be healed through diet and lifestyle changes.