Fatty liver disease symptoms: Nail changes are a serious warning sign – what to look for

NHS Choices: Liver Disease

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Fatty Liver disease falls into two categories – alcoholic (AFLD) and non-alcoholic (NAFLD). As the name implies, the former is attributed to excessive alcohol consumption, but the latter is linked to obesity and other poor lifestyle measures. According to research, NAFLD is a more common cause of chronic liver disease in developed countries.

The vast majority of people living NAFLD are asymptomatic in the beginning.

Symptoms may only show up when NAFLD causes cirrhosis – scarring of the liver caused by long-term liver damage.

According to an article published in the Pharmaceutical Journal, when the liver function starts to deteriorate, cirrhosis can cause a slew of unsettling changes.

One visual warning sign of this advanced stage is nail changes, notes the article.

Other warning signs of late-stage NAFLD include:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • Ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity)
  • Splenomegaly (enlarged spleen).

How is NAFLD diagnosed?

According to the NHS, NAFLD 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, as the health body explains, blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.

“The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy,” it says.

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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.

Am I at risk?

It is unclear why some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not.

“Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that progresses to cirrhosis,” explains the Mayo Clinic.

However, NAFLD risk has been linked to a number of chronic disease markers.

These include:

  • Overweight or obesity
  • Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
  • High blood sugar (hyperglycaemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
  • High levels of fats, particularly triglycerides, in the blood.

“These combined health problems appear to promote the deposit of fat in the liver,” explains the Mayo Clinic.

“For some people, this excess fat acts as a toxin to liver cells, causing liver inflammation and NASH, which may lead to a buildup of scar tissue in the liver.”

How to treat NAFLD

Unfortunately, there aren’t any specific treatments yet for NAFLD.

“Your doctor will encourage you to make changes to your lifestyle to prevent your condition getting worse,” explains Bupa.

According to the health body, your doctor will also recommend treatment for any medical conditions or complications you may have because of your NAFLD.

“There are various medicines that are useful in managing problems associated with NAFLD,” it says.

These include medications used to treat:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes.

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