Do you know that the liver is your body is one of the vital organs that process nutrients from foods and filter harmful substances from your blood? However, if it does not do so then you might have a fatty liver.
Fatty liver is also known as Hepatic Steatosis is when fat builds up in your liver.
Moreover, having small amounts of fat in your body is normal, however, too much fat can become a health problem.
Too much fat in your liver can cause inflammation and can damage your liver and create scarring,
In severe cases, it can even lead to liver failure.
The fatty liver develops in your body due to consumption of alcohol is called Alcoholic fatty liver disease or AFLD.
On the other hand, if you do not consume alcohol and develop fatty liver it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, NAFLD.
According to the researchers in the World Journal of Gastroenterology, NAFLD affects almost 25 to 30% of people in the United States and Europe.
Read on to learn more about fatty liver.
Symptoms of Fatty Liver
In most cases, there are no noticeable symptoms of fatty liver.
However, you may feel tired, or experience discomfort or pain in the upper right side of your abdomen.
Some individuals may even develop complications live liver scarring.
Liver scarring or Liver Fibrosis can even lead to Cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis may cause symptoms like:
Loss of appetite, weight loss, weakness, fatigue, nose bleeds, itchy skin, yellow skin, and eyes.
Moreover, you might also observe web-like clusters of blood vessels under your skin, abdominal pain, swelling in the abdomen, swelling of legs, breast enlargement in men, and confusion.
It is a potentially life-threatening condition. Thus, you should consult your doctor immediately.
Causes of Fatty Liver
When your body produces too much fat or does not metabolize fat efficiently, then it causes fatty liver.
Your liver has the ability to store excess fat in its cells.
This is where the fat accumulates and causes fatty liver disease.
This buildup of fat can be due to a variety of things.
For instance, drinking too much alcohol can cause alcoholic fatty liver disease.
This is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease.
However, if you do not drink a lot of alcohol, the cause of fatty liver is often unclear.
One of the following factors may play a role in causing it.
Obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, or high levels of fat, especially triglycerides can cause this disease.
However, less common causes are as follows:
Pregnancy, rapid weight loss, or infection like hepatitis C.
Side effects of certain medications like methotrexate, tamoxifen, etc, or exposure to certain toxins can cause it.
Certain genes can also raise your risk of developing fatty liver.
Stages of Fatty Liver Disease
This condition can progress through 4 stages:
Simple Fatty liver: There is a buildup of excess fat in the liver
Steatohepatitis: Along with excess fat, there is inflammation
Fibrosis: Inflammation of the liver due to scarring of the liver
Cirrhosis: Widespread scarring of the liver
Cirrhosis is potentially life-threatening and can cause liver failure.
It may be irreversible and thus it is important to prevent it from developing in the first place.
It is thus, crucial to follow your doctor’s recommendation to stop this condition from progressing and causing complications.
Types of Fatty Liver Disease
There are 2 mains types of fatty liver disease: Non-Alcoholic and Alcoholic.
NAFLD includes nonalcoholic fatty liver, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis NASH, and acute fatty liver of pregnancy, AFLP.
On the other hand, alcoholic fatty liver disease AFDL includes simple AFLD and alcoholic steatohepatitis ASH.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
Nonalcoholic Fatty liver Disease NAFLD
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease NAFLD occurs in your body when fat builds up on the liver.
This happens when you do not drink a lot of alcohol.
If you have excess fat in your liver and no history of heavy alcohol consumption, then your doctor may diagnose you with NAFLD.
However, if there is no inflammation or other complications along with the buildup of fat then your doctor terms your conditions as Simple Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver.
Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, NASH
NASH is a type of NAFLD and occurs when there is a build-up of excess fat in your liver.
Moreover, it is accompanied by inflammation of the liver.
If you have excess fat in your liver, it causes inflammation and you have no history of heavy alcohol consumption then your doctor may diagnose you with NASH.
It is important to note that if you do not get treatment for NASH, then it can cause scarring in your liver.
In severe cases, however, it can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy, AFLP
Acute fatty liver of pregnancy, AFLP is rare, however can cause serious complications of pregnancy.
The exact cause is unknown, however, when AFLP develops, it appears in the third trimester of pregnancy.
If you do not get treatment, it poses a serious health risk to both the mother and the growing baby.
Thus, if your doctor diagnoses you with this condition, then they will want to deliver the baby as soon as possible,
You may need to receive follow-up care for several days after you deliver the baby.
Moreover, the health of your liver will likely return to normal within a few weeks of giving birth.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, ALFD
Drinking a lot of alcohol damages your liver and in this case, your liver does not have the ability to break down fat properly.
This can cause fat to build up which is also known as an alcoholic fatty liver.
ALFD is the earliest or first stage of alcohol-related liver disease.
If there is no inflammation or other complications along with the fat build-up of fat, the condition is known as Simple alcoholic fatty liver.
Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, ASH
This one is a type of ALFD and happens when a build-up of excess fat in the liver is present along with liver inflammation.
This is also termed alcoholic hepatitis.
If you have excess fat in your liver, there is inflammation and you also drink a lot of alcohol, your doctor will diagnose you with ASH.
If you do not get treatment, ASH can cause liver scarring and in severe cases, it can lead to Cirrhosis and eventually to liver failure.
To treat ASH, you need to avoid alcohol and your doctor may also recommend counseling or other treatments.
Diagnosis of Fatty Liver
To diagnose fatty liver, your doctor will take your medical history, conduct a physical exam, and order some other tests.
Let’s discuss them as follows:
If your doctor suspects that you have a fatty liver they may ask you the following questions:
Your family history including a history of liver disease, alcohol consumptions, and other lifestyle habits.
Medical conditions that you might have, medications, and recent changes in your health.
Moreover, if you are experiencing fatigue, loss of appetite, or other unexplained symptoms, let your doctor know them as well.
To check for liver inflammation, your doctor may palpate or press your abdomen.
If your liver is inflamed, your doctor will be able to feel it.
However, it is possible that there is liver inflammation without liver enlargement.
In most cases, your doctor can diagnose liver inflammation upon touching your abdomen.
In most cases, your doctor will diagnose fatty liver disease with blood tests as they show elevated liver enzymes.
For instance, your doctor may diagnose the alanine aminotransferase test, ALT, and aspartate aminotransferase test, AST to check your liver enzymes.
They may recommend it to you they diagnose signs or symptoms of liver disease.
In some cases, however, your doctor may diagnose it as routine blood work.
Elevated liver enzymes are a sign of inflammation of your liver.
Fatty liver disease is one potential cause of liver inflammation, however, is not the only one.
Thus, if you test positive for elevated liver enzymes, your doctor may order additional tests to identify the cause of inflammation.
Image Testing and Liver Biopsy
Your doctor may order one of the following image tests to check for excess fat or other problems with your liver.
Ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI scan are the tests your doctor may order.
They may also order Vibration-controlled transient elastography, VCTE, FibroScan.
This test uses low-frequency sound waves to measure the stiffness of the liver.
It can help to check for liver scarring.
Additionally, a liver biopsy is the best way to determines the severity of the liver disease.
Dusing this, your doctor will insert a needle into your liver and remove a piece of tissue for examination.
They will also give you local anesthesia to reduce the pain.
This test can help them to determine if you have fatty liver disease as well as liver scarring.
To this date, there is no medication to treat fatty liver disease.
More research is required to develop and test medications to treat this condition.
In most cases, lifestyle changes can help reverse fatty liver disease.
For instance, your doctor may recommend the following:
- limit or avoid alcohol
- lose weight
- to make certain changes to your diet
However, if you have complications, they may recommend additional treatments.
To treat cirrhosis, they might prescribe lifestyle changes, medications, or surgery.
It is important to note that cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, thus, if you develop it, you might need a liver transplant.
Lifestyle changes are the first-line treatment and depending on your condition and lifestyle habits, you may need to:
- lose weight
- reduce alcohol consumption
- eat a nutrient-rich diet
- avoid excess calories, saturated fat, and trans fat
- regular exercise for 30 minutes
Moreover, vitamin E supplements may also help to treat or prevent liver damage due to fatty liver disease.
However, more research is required and there are certain health risks associated with consuming excess vitamin E.
It is important to consult your doctor before using a new supplement or natural remedy.
Some supplements or natural remedies may stress your liver or interact with the medications you are taking.
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If you have fatty liver disease, your doctor may encourage you to adjust your diet to help treat the condition.
Moreover, it will help to reduce your risk of developing complications.
For instance, they may advise you to do the following:
Eat a diet that is rich in plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
Limit your consumption of refined carbs, like sweets, white rice, white bread, or other refined grain products.
Reduce your consumption of saturated fats that are found in red meat and other animal products.
Avoid trans-fat present in processed snack foods and alcohol.
Your doctor may also encourage you to cut calories from your diet to lose weight.
Drinking high amounts of alcohol can put you at an increased risk of developing fatty liver.
You may also be high risk if you are:
Obese, high insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, PCOS, are pregnant, and have a history of infections like hepatitis C.
Moreover, using medications, high cholesterol levels, high triglycerides levels, high blood sugar levels, and metabolic syndrome can increase your risk.
Thus, if you have a family history of fatty liver disease you are more likely to develop it yourself.
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To prevent this condition and its complications, it is crucial to follow a healthy lifestyle.
Moreover, a healthy body weight, a nutrient-rich diet, controlling blood sugar levels, triglyceride levels, and following the treatment plan of diabetes is important.
Additionally, doing exercise for 30 minutes and avoiding alcohol can prevent this condition from developing.
In most cases, it is possible to revere fatty liver with the help of lifestyle changes. These can help prevent damage and scarring.
However, if it causes inflammation, damage to your liver, and scarring then it can lead to Cirrhosis.
In such a condition you may increase your risk of liver cancer and liver failure and these can be fatal. Thus, it is best to follow your doctor’s recommendations, treatment plan and practice an overall healthy lifestyle.