Fatty liver disease, a generalized term for all diseases of the liver caused by an abundance of fat located within liver cells, is becoming extraordinarily common around the world, and it is especially prevalent in Western, industrialized nations.
As the most common type of chronic liver disease, it affects approximately 100 million people worldwide.
While the disease does affect those in all age groups, it is especially common in 40 – 60 year-old people that are already in groups that are at high risk for heart disease, such those with type 2 diabetes and those who are obese. The disease has also been linked to metabolic syndrome. This condition is marked by high levels of triglycerides, and elevated blood pressure.
Steatohepatitis, a very serious form of fatty liver disease, causes severe inflammation which may lead to scarring and damage that is deemed irreversible. It even has the potential to progress to cirrhosis and complete liver failure.
It should be noted, however, that this horrifying diagnosis can be avoided if potential patients pay close attention to the warning signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease. Here are some of the tell-tale signs that should never be ignored:
1 - Jaundice of the Skin and Eyes
Jaundice is a condition in which the white areas of a person’s eyes, as well as his or her skin, start to appear yellowish. It can be a symptom of several serious illnesses. Jaundice is simply the abundance of the yellow pigment bilirubin within the blood and is sometimes referred to as hyperbilirubinemia.
When hemoglobin, the oxygen-carrying part of red blood cells, breaks down and recycles its old or damaged components, bilirubin is formed. It is then carried to the liver via the bloodstream and it will then bind with the bile there. Along with the bile, it progresses through the bile ducts towards the digestive tract and it is then eliminated as waste.
However, when the liver is damaged, bilirubin cannot easily move through the bile ducts, so the bilirubin remains within the blood vessels, creating the illusion of a yellow tinge to the skin and eyes.
2 - Red Palms of Hands
Palmar erythema is a condition that is marked by the palms of both hands appearing reddish. The base of the palm, as well as well as the bottom of the little finger and thumb are usually the first areas to change in color. Sometimes full fingers can turn a pinkish-red hue. The severity of redness depends on whether or not a person is extending his or her arms, the surrounding temperature, a person’s mood, and any pressure applied to the hands.
The symptom is linked to several conditions, but its nickname “liver palms” forever links to fatty liver disease. As one of the first signs to appear, it should be taken very seriously. Red palms have actually been linked to up to 23% of those diagnosed with cirrhosis and liver disease, and as such, most doctors will order a liver function test on patients that present with palmar erythema.
3 - Swelling of the Abdomen
Swelling of the abdomen, or ascites, is a common condition seen in those that are developing fatty liver disease. While it can be present in patients that are dealing with kidney failure, infections, cancer, or heart failure, it is most commonly associated with liver issues. The symptom is caused by both a decrease in liver function, such as scarring, and the elevated pressure in veins that are contained within the liver. When abdominal swelling is present, physicians tend to suspect liver disease and may refer patients for transplantation.
In addition to the abdominal distension observed, patients may also notice a rapid increase in weight, along with pain and discomfort, fluid retention around the ankles, and shortness of breath caused by fluid accumulation near the lungs. A swollen abdomen may also lead to secondary infections and possible hernias.
4 - Enlargement of Breasts in Men
Because the liver is solely responsible for removing excess estrogen from the male body, conditions such as gynecomastia, or male breast enlargement, which are caused by an abundance of the female hormone, are an indicator of fatty liver disease. In addition to failing to expunge estrogen, liver disease also compromises the healthy production of many male hormones.
Another issue that presents is the fact that the body is designed to actually convert some male hormones into estrogen, meaning that even if the liver malfunctions by over producing, breast enlargement may still occur. Either way, gynecomastia is a typical warning sign that a patient could be dealing with fatty liver disease and should be evaluated.