Understanding Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver scaled 1

Fatty liver has become one of the most common liver diseases in India, mainly due to sedentary lifestyles and high-calorie intake. Let’s take a closer look at the signs, effects, diagnosis, and treatment of fatty liver disease.

What is fatty liver disease?

The build-up of excessive levels of fat in the liver is called fatty liver disease or hepatic steatosis. This condition can lead to a multitude of complications that can harm your liver, cause liver scarring, and eventually lead to liver failure.

What are the types of fatty liver disease?

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD): Alcoholic fatty liver is caused by heavy alcohol consumption. There are two types namely –
    – Simple alcoholic fatty liver: In this, there is accumulation of fat in the liver without any accompanying inflammation or complications
    – Alcoholic hepatitis: In this, there is an excess accumulation of fat followed by inflammation
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol consumption is not the cause of excessive buildup of liver fat. It is of two types –
    Simple non-alcoholic fatty liver: Not accompanied by inflammation or other complications.
    Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): If there is an accumulation of fat followed by inflammation
  • Acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP): This happens when excess fats build up in the body during pregnancy. The exact cause is unknown. This usually develops in the third trimester of pregnancy and if left untreated, it poses serious damage to both the mother and the baby

What causes fatty liver?

  • Drinking excessive alcohol: Heavy alcohol usage can affect the metabolic processes of the liver. The metabolised products react with fatty acids to form certain types of fat which may accumulate in the liver
  • Other causes (besides alcohol consumption) include –
    – Being overweight
    – Having type 2 diabetes
    – Insulin resistance, when your cells stop responding or become ‘resistant’ to insulin, leads to high blood sugar levels
    – High levels of blood triglycerides
    – Medications like corticosteroids, antidepressants, and antipsychotics

What are the risk factors for fatty liver?

The category of people who are more prone to fatty liver includes –

  • Women reaching menopause
  • Having a high body weight with a high level of abdominal or belly fat
  • Having sleep apnea (a blocked airway that causes breathing to start and stop during sleep)
  • Having chronic conditions like high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes etc.
  • Smoking

What are the symptoms of fatty liver?

  • Abdominal pain
  • Nausea or urge to vomit
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Yellowish colour of skin, nails, and whites of eyes (jaundice)
  • Swollen abdomen and legs
  • Generalised weakness
  • Mental confusion

How is fatty liver diagnosed?

Doctors employ a variety of methods to diagnose fatty liver because it typically exhibits fewer symptoms.

  • Physical examination
    Initially, your doctor may press on your abdomen to check whether your liver is enlarged and tender
  • Blood tests
    Your doctor advises you to undergo blood tests which includes liver function tests that can indicate elevated liver enzymes like alanine aminotransferase test (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase test (AST), blood glucose levels, blood cholesterol levels etc.
  • Imaging tests
    Imaging tests like ultrasound scan or computed tomography helps to visualise the liver and idenrifying inflammation and complications
  • Liver biopsy
    In serious cases you may be asked to undergo a liver biopsy, where your doctor will insert a needle into your liver and remove a piece of tissue for examination
  • Fibroscan
    A newer technique for diagnosing fatty liver uses a specialised ultrasound-based machine to determine scarring and the amount of fat buildup in the liver.

How is fatty liver treated?

While there are no specific medications for the treatment of fatty liver disease, it can be managed by focusing on lifestyle changes such as –

  • Avoiding/restricting alcohol intake
  • Losing weight
  • Keeping a reasonable control on your blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels by follwing your doctor’s advice and taking medicines on time
  • Making healthy changes to your diet – eating healthy, low-processed meals and cutting out added sugars and unhealthy fats
  • Avoiding unnecessary supplements and medications which can damage your liver

Can fatty liver disease be prevented?

You can certainly reduce your risk for fatty liver disease by –

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy diet (including unprocessed foods, vegetables, and fruits)
  • Restricting your alcohol intake

What is the best diet for fatty liver?

A healthy diet rich in fibre, fruits, and vegetables is always recommended. These include foods like –

  • Oatmeal
  • Greens like cauliflower, spinach, and broccoli
  • Fatty fishes like salmon, sardines, and tuna (rich in omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Nuts and seeds

Avoid added sugars, fried foods, added salt, white bread, pasta, and red meat whenever possible as they contribute to the factors affecting fatty liver diseases like diabetes, cholesterol, and blood pressure.

Is fatty liver reversible?

Yes, you can counter early fatty liver-related changes through lifestyle modifications.

What are the complications of fatty liver?

The main complications caused are –

  • Liver cirrhosis: Continuous inflammation in the liver leads to scarring
  • Liver failure and liver cancer: in some cases, liver cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and liver cancer
Dr. Keertana

Dr. Keertana

A medical writer with a Doctorate in Pharmacy, she writes vividly about medicine and science. Read her contributions and writings about various healthcare topics.

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