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What is fatty liver disease?


illustrated image of a liver with an SOS written in pills above

Fatty liver disease, also known as hepatic steatosis, is a condition characterised by the accumulation of excess fat in the liver. While the primary effects of this disease are evident in the liver itself, research suggests that it can also have an impact on other parts of the body, including the feet and lower limbs.


The condition can develop due to various factors, such as excessive alcohol consumption (alcoholic fatty liver disease) or metabolic disorders like obesity, diabetes, or high cholesterol (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). In both cases, the liver becomes infiltrated with excessive fat deposits, hindering its normal functioning.


Although the primary site of damage in fatty liver disease is the liver itself, its effects can extend beyond this organ. The connection between fatty liver disease and foot problems lies in the circulatory system. As the liver struggles to function properly, it may lead to a buildup of toxins and metabolic waste in the blood—impairing flow to all the extremities of the body, including the feet and lower limbs.


As you may imagine from its name, the disease is much more common amongst people carrying extra weight. Being a smoker can also increase the risk of a fatty liver disease diagnosis.


Your feet can exhibit several symptoms associated with fatty liver disease. These may include:

  • Oedema: fluid retention due to compromised blood flow can cause swelling in the feet and ankles

  • Numbness or tingling: reduced blood circulation can lead to sensory changes, causing numbness or tingling in the feet

  • Pain and discomfort: insufficient blood supply can result in foot pain, particularly during physical activity or prolonged periods of standing

  • Slow healing: impaired circulation can hinder the body's ability to heal wounds in the feet and increases the risk of infections


Inspecting a liver with a magnifying glass, trying to diagnose

Another symptom can be excessive itching, which can be particularly prevalent in the evenings. The itching can be in specific areas, such as the palms of your hand or soles of your feet, and it can cause some discomfort. Some experts believe this is due to a build-up of bile salts.


Relieving the symptoms

Whilst, overall, fatty liver disease requires medical intervention and lifestyle changes, there are things that you can do to alleviate discomfort in your feet if you have been diagnosed with the condition.

  • Exercise: regular physical activity, such as walking or swimming, can help improve blood flow and circulation through the feet

  • Foot elevation: raising and propping up the feet when sitting or lying down can help reduce swelling. Use a footstool or pouffe to relieve the pressure

  • Compression stockings: wearing compression stockings can help reduce fluid retention and improve blood flow

  • Foot soaks: soaking the feet in warm water may help alleviate pain and improve circulation

  • Medication: over-the-counter pain relievers can provide temporary relief from foot pain


Can fatty liver disease be reversed or cured?

The treatment of fatty liver disease primarily involves making lifestyle changes to address the underlying causes, such as maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and managing your diabetes or cholesterol levels. In cases of alcoholic fatty liver disease, abstaining from alcohol is crucial. If you implement these changes, it is possible to reduce fat accumulation in the liver and improve your liver function significantly.


Curing fatty liver disease may not be possible if the condition is in advanced stages or if significant liver damage has occurred. In such cases, managing the condition and preventing further progression is possible. Regular monitoring by a healthcare professional would be prudent, to assess liver health and make appropriate recommendations.


If you’re concerned that you may be displaying symptoms of fatty liver disease, or you’re simply keen to maintain good foot health, book an assessment at one of our clinics. Our Wombwell clinic can be reached on 01226 492412 and our Morley clinic via 0113 238 0330.

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