Fatty liver disease, which occurs when there is an excess of fat in the liver, often goes undiagnosed in the early stages because it is often asymptomatic. However, as the disease progresses, people may start to notice symptoms such as yellowing of the skin, a dull ache on the right side of the ribs, swelling in the abdomen or legs, and weight loss. This disease is on the rise due to lifestyle and diet changes, such as a sedentary lifestyle and an excess intake of processed and high-calorie foods. Alcohol is a major cause of fatty liver, but non-alcoholic fatty liver is also increasing. The disease is divided into four stages: simple fatty liver (or steatosis), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
The first stage, simple fatty liver, occurs when there is a build-up of fat in the liver cells without inflammation or scarring.
The second stage, NASH, is characterized by a build-up of fat in the liver cells along with inflammation as the liver repairs damaged tissue.
The third stage, fibrosis, involves scarring of the liver. The fourth stage, cirrhosis, is the most severe, with extensive scarring and damage to the liver. It is important to be aware of the signs of worsening fatty liver disease and to seek medical attention if necessary.
The third stage of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is fibrosis, which is characterised by the presence of scar tissue in the liver and in the blood vessels around the liver. If left untreated, fibrosis can progress to the fourth stage of NAFLD, which is cirrhosis. At this stage, the liver is severely damaged and can no longer function properly. Symptoms of cirrhosis may include yellowing of the skin, a dull ache on the right side of the ribs, abnormal swelling (ascites), leg swelling, bleeding from vomiting, altered consciousness, and the need for hospitalisation and potentially a liver transplant.
It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of worsening fatty liver disease and to seek medical attention if necessary. Early diagnosis and treatment can often lead to a complete reversal of the disease. Detection tools such as ultrasound, fibro scan, and blood tests can help with early diagnosis, and regular exercise, dietary and lifestyle changes, and medications can help treat fatty liver disease.