Fatty Liver Symptoms, Causes, and Management
Fatty Liver is a condition in which excess fat is build up in the liver cells. Normally some fat is present in the liver but when the amount of fat is more than 5% to10% of the weight, it is known as a fatty liver. It may be alcoholic (chronic overindulgence in alcohol) or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Types of Fatty Liver
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease: Drinking too much alcohol, may lead to accumulation of fat in liver cells. It can even occur after a short period of heavy drinking. Fatty liver disease may or may not cause any symptoms but it is an important warning sign. It may lead to liver inflammation, scarring and cirrhosis over the time
- Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): Accumulation of fat in the liver cells of people who drinks little or no alcohol. It is a common condition and does not usually cause signs and symptoms. In some cases, this fat accumulation leads to inflammation and liver scarring. This more serious form of NAFLD is known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
At initial stages, this disease does not cause any signs and symptoms. It is diagnosed by a chance during the routine ultrasound or done for other purposes. However over a period of time disease advances and symptoms starts appearing such as:
- Loss of weight
- Poor Appetite
- Pain in a center or upper right abdomen
- With alcoholic liver disease, too much drinking may lead to worsening of symptoms
If the condition got worse and cirrhosis occurs then symptoms may include :
- Cognitive Changes
- Fluid Filled abdomen
- Abnormal Bleeding
In most of the cases it has found that the main cause of fatty liver is drinking an excess of alcohol, means it is alcohol used disorder. However, there are many cases it is not clear about causes in the people who do not drink alcohol.
Apart from alcohol, there are common causes of Fatty Liver:
- High Triglycerides
- Eating junk and processed foods
- Side effects of many medications like Methotrexate, Valproic acid
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease: Alcohol is absorbed from stomach and intestine into the bloodstream and reaches liver before circulating around the whole body. The cells in the liver can metabolize a certain amount of alcohol in a particular time but drinking too much alcohol increases the concentration of alcohol in the liver. Liver fails to metabolize large amounts, as a result, alcohol damages the liver cells leading to inflammation, scarring, and cirrhosis.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: NAFLD occurs when the liver has difficulty in breaking the fats, causing accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. There is no definite cause of NAFLD. It is usually a result of being overweight and people with diabetes.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Alcohol consumption
- Genetic factors
- Obesity, the combined effect of obesity and alcohol is worse
- Types of drinks (beer or spirits are riskier than wine )
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Resistance to insulin
- Elevated triglyceride levels
Fatty liver disease may worsen with time, which may lead to cirrhosis, as a result, the liver loses its ability to function.
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascetic, leading to bloated abdomen)
- Muscle wasting
- Internal bleeding
- Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
- Liver failure, if left untreated
- Kidney failure (a rare form of hepato-renal failure)
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Pregnant women should avoid alcohol completely
- Healthy diet: Maintain a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, healthy fats and whole green
- Avoid being overweight: exercise and reducing the intake of extra calories help in maintaining weight
- Regular exercise
As mentioned earlier, most of the times, it will be a change find. However, if once detected, physician orders an ultrasound, blood tests (to look for liver enzymes in the blood), biopsy and sometimes endoscopy.
Management for Alcoholic fatty liver disease
- Avoiding alcohol completely may help in recovery. In the case of cirrhosis has not occurred, rehabilitation or counseling programs may help
- Liver Transplant: In case cirrhosis develops, the liver transplant is needed if there has been damage to the liver
There exists no standard treatment in case of the non-alcoholic disease. However:
- Losing weight in obese patients may help
- Insulin-sensitizing agents have been successful in adults
Points to Remember
- In fatty liver disease, fats build up in the liver cells which may lead to organ damage and other serious complications
- Large alcohol consumption, obesity and diabetes mellitus are the main risk factors
- In most cases, people with this disease are encouraged to modify their diets, take regular exercise and lose weight
- If left untreated, it can lead to liver damage, fibrosis (scarring), and cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure. However, it is not known in which type of patients does it progress and with what intensity.
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