Fatty Liver: A Silent Disease That Can Be Dangerous

Fatty Liver: A Silent Disease That Can Be Dangerous

Precio Daramola |Mar 22, 2021

Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms to Know About

The liver is the largest organ in the body, helping in food digestion, energy storage, and detoxification. The liver typically contains some fat; however, excessive build-up of this fat causes fatty liver disease. In this article we discuss fatty liver disease symptoms and how you can manage it.

But first, there are two main types of fatty liver disease:

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

As the name implies, this type of fatty liver disease is not associated with heavy alcohol use. There are two kinds:

  • Simple fatty liver: This is a less serious case that involves little or no inflammation or liver cell damage together with the fat build-up.
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): In this case, fat builds up in the liver, together with inflammation or liver cell damage. Inflammation and liver cell damage can cause fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver. This may also lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Also called alcoholic steatohepatitis, this is usually a result of heavy alcohol use. The liver is responsible for breaking down most of the alcohol you drink so that your body can remove it. However, while breaking down alcohol, certain harmful substances that can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken your body's natural defenses are generated. The more alcohol you drink, the more you damage your liver.

What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?

As earlier stated, fatty liver develops when your body produces too much fat or does not metabolize fat efficiently enough. The excess fat is stored in liver cells, where it accumulates and causes the disease. This build-up of fat is mostly caused by excessive alcohol consumption. This is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease. In the case of people who do not drink a lot of alcohol, the cause of fatty liver disease is usually not certain.

Common Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

Both types of fatty liver disease are usually silent diseases with few or no symptoms. However, some symptoms such as tiredness or discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen may occur. Some people with fatty liver disease also develop complications such as liver scarring. Liver scarring is known as liver fibrosis. In severe cases, it is known as cirrhosis.

How is Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?

Because there are often no symptoms, it can be challenging to diagnose fatty liver disease. However, your doctor may suspect that you have it if you get abnormal results on liver tests that you had for other reasons. For diagnosis, your doctor may rely on your medical history, physical examination, and various tests — including blood and imaging tests and sometimes a biopsy.

Medical History

Your doctor will ask about your alcohol use to determine whether fat in your liver is a sign of alcoholic fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD). Your doctor may also want to find out about any drugs you have recently used to check if they contribute to the condition.

Physical Examination

During the physical examination, your doctor will examine your body and check your weight and height. Your doctor will look for any signs that may indicate fatty liver disease, such as an enlarged liver or signs of cirrhosis, e.g., jaundice.

Blood Tests

Your doctor might also recommend that you have blood tests, including liver function and blood count tests. In some cases, you may also have imaging tests that help check for fat and the stiffness of your liver (which could mean fibrosis).

Biopsy

In some cases, you may also need a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis and to check how badly your liver is damaged.

What Are the Treatment Options for Fatty Liver Disease?

There are no approved medicines to treat NAFLD, but studies are still being carried out to find a cure. The most important part of treating alcohol-related fatty liver disease is to stop drinking alcohol. If you need help dealing with alcohol addiction, you might need to see a therapist or enroll in an alcohol recovery program.

There are, however, medicines that can help, either by reducing your cravings or making you feel sick if you drink alcohol. With non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, doctors usually recommend weight loss to reduce fat in the liver, inflammation, and fibrosis. If your doctor suspects that a certain medicine is responsible for the condition, you will be advised to discontinue usage of the medication and to switch to another one.

When fatty liver disease worsens and leads to cirrhosis, the condition may be treated using medicines, operations, and other medical procedures. If the cirrhosis leads to liver failure, a liver transplant will be considered.

Lifestyle Changes to Help Manage Fatty Liver Disease

Making lifestyle changes is essential in treating fatty liver disease because they are the first-line treatment for fatty liver disease. Depending on your current condition and lifestyle habits, the following will go a long way to help:

  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reducing your alcohol intake
  • Eating a nutrient-rich diet that is low in excess calories, saturated fat, and trans fats
  • Getting at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week

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