Fatty Liver Disease: Its Cause, Symptoms and Diagnosis and Treatment
Fatty Liver Disease, also known as hepatic steatosis, is a condition in which there is an excessive accumulation of fat in the liver. In India, it is estimated that around 10-20% of the population suffers from this disease, while globally the prevalence ranges from 25-30%. This disease is often referred to as a “silent disease” because it often has no symptoms in the early stages. Therefore, it is important to be aware of the risk factors and take steps to prevent it.
Fatty Liver Types
There are two types of fatty liver: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).NAFLD, which is the more common form of the disease, can be caused by a variety of factors, including obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. In these cases, the accumulation of fat in the liver is not due to excessive alcohol consumption.
AFLD, on the other hand, is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. The liver is responsible for breaking down the toxins in alcohol, and when this process is repeated too often, it can lead to an accumulation of fat in the liver.
Symptoms can vary, and in many cases, there may be no symptoms at all. However, as the disease progresses, some common symptoms may include:
- Weight loss
- Abdominal pain or discomfort
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Confusion and disorientation
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin
- Bruising easily
- Enlarged liver (hepatomegaly)
- Swelling in the legs and ankles (edema)
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites)
It’s important to note that these symptoms can be caused by other conditions as well, so it’s important to see a doctor if you have any concerns. In addition, this disease can progress to more serious conditions such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and cirrhosis, which can lead to liver failure.
It is often diagnosed through a combination of physical examination, medical history, and imaging tests. Some commonly used diagnostic methods include:
Physical examination: Your doctor will examine your abdomen for an enlarged liver or spleen, which may indicate the presence of fatty liver disease.
Medical History: Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and risk factors, such as obesity, diabetes, and alcohol consumption.
Blood Tests: Your doctor may order blood tests to check for high levels of liver enzymes, which can indicate liver damage. They may also check for anemia, high cholesterol, and high triglycerides, which are common in people with fatty liver.
Imaging Tests: Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI can be used to confirm the diagnosis of fatty liver disease. These tests can also show the extent of fat accumulation in the liver, and whether there is any liver damage.
Liver Biopsy: In some cases, a liver biopsy may be performed to determine the stage of the disease. The procedure involves taking a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope.
It’s important to note that these tests can only diagnose the disease, but not the specific cause of it, that’s why the doctor may also conduct other tests to rule out other possible causes.
It starts with maintaining a healthy lifestyle, which includes:
Maintaining a healthy diet: A diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins can help prevent the accumulation of fat in the liver. It is also important to limit the intake of saturated and trans fats, as well as added sugars and refined carbohydrates.
Exercising regularly: Regular exercise can help keep weight in check, lower the risk of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic syndrome, and improve overall health.
Maintaining a healthy weight: Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for fatty liver disease. Losing weight through a combination of diet and exercise can help prevent the development of fatty liver disease.
Limiting alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is recommended to limit alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.
Managing underlying medical conditions: If you have diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or other medical conditions that increase your risk of fatty liver disease, it’s important to work with your doctor to manage these conditions.
Avoiding certain medications: Certain medications like corticosteroids, amiodarone, and methotrexate, can cause fatty liver disease. If you are taking any of these medications and have symptoms of fatty liver, consult with your doctor to see if there are alternative treatments available.
It’s important to note that the earlier you make lifestyle changes, the more effective they will be in preventing the development of this disease. If you already have fatty liver disease, lifestyle changes can slow the progression of the disease and help prevent liver damage.
The treatment depends on the underlying cause and the stage of the disease. Some common treatment options include:
Lifestyle changes: Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy diet, regular exercise, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption are the mainstays of treatment for fatty liver disease. This can help prevent the progression of the disease and improve overall health.
Weight Loss: If you are overweight or obese, losing weight can help reduce the amount of fat in your liver and improve your overall health.
Medications: In some cases, medications may be prescribed to help lower cholesterol and triglycerides, control diabetes, or manage other underlying medical conditions that contribute to fatty liver disease.
Vitamin E: Studies have shown that vitamin E supplements may improve liver function and reduce inflammation in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Bariatric surgery: If you have severe obesity, bariatric surgery may be an option to achieve significant and sustained weight loss.
Treating underlying conditions: If you have other medical conditions that contribute to fatty liver disease such as diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or high blood pressure, treating these conditions can help improve your liver health.
It’s important to note that not all cases of fatty liver disease require treatment, and in some cases, the disease may resolve on its own with lifestyle changes. However, early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent the progression of the disease and to avoid complications such as liver damage or liver failure.
It’s also important to work with your doctor to develop an individualized treatment plan that takes into account your specific circumstances, and to keep monitoring your liver function and overall health regularly.