Fatty Liver Disease: Symptoms
1. Abdominal discomfort
Liver inflammation occurs as a result of excess fat accumulation. When more than 10 percent of the liver’s weight constitutes of fat, the liver cells get damaged and there is enlargement and inflammation. Abdominal discomfort or pain can occur in the upper right end of the abdomen under the diaphragm (location of liver), as a result of this inflammation. Usually a dull ache which is unpredictable, episodic or occasional can occur. Enlargement of the liver causes stretching of the liver’s outer layer (or so called capsule) causing pain or abdominal discomfort. This particular symptom is characteristic of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic types of the disease.
2. Fatigue and malaise
Lack of energy or fatigue can occur in people with this disease. This symptom is usually seen in a stage, when there is liver enlargement and inflammation. An imbalance in the glucose levels of the body is the causal factor for low energy levels or malaise. One main function of liver is conversion of excess glucose into the reserve form: glycogen. Due to malfunctioning of the liver, this particular mechanism gets affected and the person can feel drained out due to lack of energy. Another core function of the liver is digestion or breakdown of foods for absorption. When this function gets hampered, there is insufficient absorption of minerals and nutrients resulting in fatigue.
3. Loss of weight
Bile is a fluid secreted by the liver, which helps in digestion. Bile juice contains many essential components like electrolytes, acids, bile pigments, etc., which are required for proper digestion of fats. Bile juice also helps in breakdown of fats into smaller deposits for absorption through the lining of the small intestine. Due to damage caused to the liver due to fatty liver disease, there is improper secretion of bile resulting in inadequate absorption of fats in the body. Fats present inside the body facilitate absorption of vitamins, provide energy and aid in growth and development. Due to the interference caused in the production of bile, fats are not absorbed as a result weight loss occurs in affected individuals.
This symptom is experienced usually in the later stages of the disease and is an unusual sign during the early stages of the disease (the condition may be asymptomatic during the early stages). Nausea along with other prominent symptoms could indicate the extent of damage to the liver, so it is important to consult a doctor straight way before the condition further worsens to other serious forms like cirrhosis. Nausea can occur in case of extensive liver scarring and disruption in the liver function. Accumulation of waste products and proteins can occur in the bloodstream as a result of this malfunctioning of the liver resulting in symptoms like nausea.
5. Jaundice and clotting problems
Fatty liver disease is a slow progressing disease and in most cases there are no specific symptoms in the early stages and symptoms surface with time when liver inflammation, enlargement and scarring occur. Jaundice usually occurs when the disease is in established and in full-blown state. Yellowing of eyes and skin can occur in advanced state of the disease. In chronic cases, when liver failure occurs, jaundice is a prominent symptom. Yellowing of the skin and eyes is due to the accumulation of the bile pigment called bilirubin. Liver failure disrupts many processes inside the body causing many symptoms including jaundice. Jaundice can be mild initially and can become severe thereby affecting the whole body.
6. Clotting problems
Liver plays a very important role in coagulation and it also helps in regulating the whole clotting mechanism. Liver diseases are associated with clotting problems due to many causal factors. Due to malfunctioning of liver, there is reduced production of clotting factors, inhibitors, proteins related to clotting. Clotting problems increase the risk of morbidity and further complications in affected individuals. Disturbances in the clotting mechanism are seen in this disease as, clotting factors are primarily formed in the liver. Symptoms related to clotting need prompt medical attention to prevent further worsening of the condition as clots reduce blood flow from the liver causing other symptoms like fluid retention, jaundice, abdominal discomfort, etc.
7. Fluid retention
Liver metabolizes toxic substances which are then released into the blood or bile and it is then that the kidneys perform their function by removing these waste substances. So, liver has a role in excretion and malfunctioning of liver causes fluid retention usually in the lower limbs or Ascites, a medical condition in which there is fluid retention in the abdominal cavity. People suffering from chronic forms of liver diseases usually show this symptom.
Abdominal swelling occurs due to blockage in the blood flow from the intestine through the liver; as a result blood does not reach the liver and further leaks into the abdominal cavity causing fluid retention. Fluid retention is seen in progressive state of fatty liver disease along with other complications.
Damage to the liver cells due to the disease can reduce the innate immunity, a predominant function of the liver, thereby making the body susceptible to other infections. Fever can occur in different stages of the disease as other immunity related blood cells try to eliminate the infection. The body’s immune system tries to ward off the infection or diseased state and such conditions cause elevation in body temperature or fever. Fluid retention which occurs in various parts due to this disease makes those areas more susceptible to bacterial infection. The infection multiplies as the immune-related function of liver gets hampered causing persistent fever in affected individuals.
9. Liver Inflammation and enlargement
When the amount of fat in liver exceeds the normal ratio, many changes can occur in the levels of enzymes and other factors. Such changes are accompanied by progressive inflammation of the liver, so called ‘hepatitis’. Hepatomegaly or liver enlargement can also occur in fatty liver disease due to excess deposition of fat in the liver, as a result of which the outer lining or capsule of liver gets stretched causing abdominal pain.