About one-fourth of the world’s population is affected by this disease. The worldwide prevalence of this disease is estimated to be nearly 10-24%. In the early stages, people are not aware that they have this condition. Most of them are diagnosed when they are being tested for other reasons. We all know that too much fat is bad for our health. If too much fat builds up in the liver of the body, serious complications may arise and cause liver damage. Living life may become substantially more difficult for people suffering from this illness. Knowledge about this disease is the only key to aid those who are suffering, as they can manage this condition with the help of necessary measures.
What is Fatty Liver?
Fatty liver disease, which is also known as hepatic steatosis, is a medical condition in which the fat of the body accumulates in the liver. It is normal to have fat in the liver, but if the amount of fat in the liver exceeds the range of 5%-10%, we get this disease. Fatty liver disease can be reversible with a change in the lifestyle. Fatty liver treatment usually does not involve medication. Generally, this disease does not cause any permanent damage and has no symptoms.
But if the accumulation of fat increases and reaches a dangerous amount, it will ultimately cause inflammation and scarring of the liver. While fatty liver disease is common, it is more prevalent in people who are above 40 years old. If this disease is the manifestation of another disease, it is necessary to diagnose the other disease as ignorance can cause serious harm to the person in the future. The liver, which is considered to be one of the largest parts of the human body, processes everything we put in our mouth and protects our body from harmful substances. The function of the liver is disturbed when too much fat is accumulated in the liver. When there is constant damage to the liver, everlasting scarring (cirrhosis) takes place. If the body has a lot of fat or cannot metabolize fat quick enough, it is forced to store the excess fat in the cells of the liver, which eventually causes fatty liver disease. There is no concrete evidence to prove that this disease is caused by eating a fat-rich diet.
What Causes Fatty Liver?
Fatty liver disease has many causes. Some of the main causes or things that increase the risk of fatty liver are:
- High alcohol intake
- Being overweight or obese
- Medications side effects (you should seek help immediately from your doctor if this is the case)
- Severe weight loss and malnutrition
- High blood pressure and high cholesterol
- Smoking and type 2 diabetes
- Genetic factors
- A high level of fat in the blood
What are the Different Types of Fatty Liver Disease?
There are 4 types of fatty liver disease, but alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are the most common types.
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (ALD): This type is the first stage of the liver disease which is related to the consumption of alcohol. A person gets this disease from consuming a lot of alcohol. This disease can show up even after drinking heavily for a short period of time. People having more iron in their bodies and Hepatitis C are at a higher risk of developing such type of fatty liver disease. This type of fatty liver disease will usually go away on its own if the person avoids consuming alcohol for a short period of two months.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFL): This type of disease is caused by the inability of the body to break down the fat, causing the fat to be accumulated in the body. The doctors are not sure what causes this type of fatty liver disease. This disease seems to run in families. Some recent findings report that a lot of bacteria in the small intestine can cause this type of fatty liver disease. Non-Alcoholic Fatty liver disease, which is not caused by the consumption of alcohol, may progress and cause severe damage to the liver if it is not diagnosed and necessary measures are taken.
- Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): This type of Fatty liver disease is a serious type of Non-Alcoholic Fatty liver disease. The liver becomes inflamed and causes liver damage which hinders the function of the liver, resulting in damage to the entire body. If this type of disease is not detected and managed, it can lead to cirrhosis and ultimately cause liver failure.
- Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy: It is a very rare type of Fatty liver disease. Fat accumulates in the liver during pregnancy. This can cause serious harm to the mother and the baby. Kidney or liver can fail in either of the mother or the baby, leading to serious complications. The activity of the hormones are believed to cause this type of fatty liver disease. After the diagnosis, the baby is to be delivered as soon as possible. The mother returns back to her normal state after a few weeks of intensive care.
What are Some Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease?
Generally, we do not notice the symptoms of this disease in the early stages. As the disease progresses, we can observe some of the symptoms associated with this disease. Some of the common symptoms are:
- Feeling tired easily, fatigue, overall weakness.
- Loss of appetite, which eventually leads to weight loss.
- Inability to concentrate, lack of proper judgment and confusion.
- Enlargement of the liver.
- The person may feel pain in the right upper part or the center of the belly.
- The skin under the arms or on the neck may have patches that are dark in color.
- The people having Alcoholic Liver disease may notice that the symptoms of the disease get worse after consuming a large amount of alcohol.
How Can I Detect It?
Usually, this disease is diagnosed during tests which are carried out for a different reason. There are many ways of diagnosing this disease. Some of the most common ways are:
- Blood Test: People with fatty liver disease have higher liver enzymes than normal. The doctor may recommend other tests to find out the reason for this high amount of liver enzymes. This is necessary as there are many factors which can cause liver enzymes to be high other than fatty liver disease.
- Liver Biopsy: This is the most effective way to find out if a person has Fatty liver disease. In this method, a piece of tissue is removed for examination by the doctor using a needle.
- Ultrasound: Ultrasound helps to diagnose this disease. This method uses sound waves to get an image of the liver. The fat on the liver will look like a white area on the ultrasound image.
Are You at Risk?
Some of the factors which can increase the risk of Fatty liver disease are:
- Heavy drinking and smoking
- Overweight or obesity
- Overdose of certain medications like steroids, aspirin etc
- Malnutrition and weight loss
- Family history
- High blood pressure and cholesterol levels
- Type 2 diabetes
How Can We Treat This Disease?
There is no specific treatment for fatty liver disease. The present trend is to control the symptoms and improve the quality of life. The doctors advise the people to follow some measures to avoid the disease from progressing further. People can improve their symptoms by making lifestyle changes. Some of the recommendations may include:
- Healthy Diet and Weight Loss: A balanced healthy diet high in protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals and low in fat can help in weight loss. Weight loss may improve the symptoms of Fatty Liver disease.
- Avoid Smoking and Drinking: Smoking and Drinking are one of the main causes of this disease. Avoiding them may improve this condition and prevent other diseases like strokes and heart attacks.
- Managing Cholesterol and Blood Pressure: People should regularly visit their doctors and follow suggestions which help to keep the cholesterol levels and blood pressure under control.
- Physical Activity: The patients suffering from this disease are advised to do 3 hours of moderate-intensive physical activity a week. Such type of physical exercise not only helps to improve the condition of the patients but also helps them lose weight.
Can I Prevent This Disease?
Prevention is better than cure, so they say, and we can prevent this disease by protecting our liver. We can follow some measures which are advised by the doctors. These measures not only help to prevent this disease but also help to avoid several other diseases. Some of the measures are
- Drinking alcohol in moderation
- Control the blood sugar levels and cholesterol levels
- Regular physical activity
- Healthy diet
- Maintain a healthy weight