Fatty liver disease, medically known as hepatic steatosis, is a condition in which too much fat is stored and accumulated in the liver cells. The liver, the second largest organ in the human body, contains a small amount of fat under normal conditions, but too much fat can cause serious health problems. Excess fat can cause inflammation of the liver, which can form scar tissue, and over time this can turn into cirrhosis.
Why is it dangerous?
In most cases, it doesn’t cause any serious health problems but for some 20% of people with the condition, things get worse over time. In such stories, condition turns into disease through three stages:
- Excess fat causes inflammation which damages the tissue around.
- Damaged tissue turns into scars.
- Extensive scar tissue prevents liver from functioning properly and the person gets cirrhosis.
Why does fatty liver disease occur?
Either your body produces too much fat or it does not metabolize the fat effectively enough, both conditions turn into excess fat. The excess fat is stored in the liver cells, where the accumulated fat causes liver disease.
Fattening in the liver is categorized in two types regarding the effect of alcohol consumption. The type related to too much alcohol is classified as AFLD (alcoholic fatty liver disease) and the type not related to alcohol consumption is classified as NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
What are the symptoms?
In many cases, fatty liver disease usually does not cause any obvious symptoms. However, there are cases where symptoms include severe pain in the upper right side of the abdomen or extreme fatigue.
In rare cases of fatty liver disease, various skin symptoms may occur, like itching and rashes.
Scaling is also one of the skin symptoms of fatty liver disease and cirrhosis. People experiencing such problems are recommended to visit a doctor as soon as possible. Apart from these, the symptoms of cirrhosis are as follows:
- Loss of appetite
- Weight loss
- Yellow skin and eyes
- Visible cobweb-like veins under skin
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Swelling in the legs
- Breast enlargement in men
- Brain fog
How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?
Your doctor will probably check liver enzymes with alanine aminotransferase test (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase test (AST) test and make a diagnosis accordingly.
High liver enzyme levels are only one sign of liver inflammation. Although excess fat is a potential cause of liver inflammation, it is not the only cause. Therefore, if enzyme levels are elevated, additional tests will be needed to determine the cause of the inflammation.
This may include an ultrasound examination, computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). In addition to these methods, it is also possible to perform a vibration-controlled transient elastography or fibroscan test, which uses low-frequency sound waves to measure liver stiffness. These tests can be used to check for scars on the liver.
A biopsy is the best way to determine how severe the disease is. During this procedure, tissue samples are taken from a locally anesthetized area and examined. This test can detect fatty liver as well as hardening and scar tissue formation in the liver.
How to reverse fatty liver disease
The basic tools are lifestyle changes. Depending on the severity of the problem, your doctor may recommend limiting alcohol consumption, taking steps to lose weight and making dietary changes. A nutrient-rich diet that is low in saturated and trans fats and does not contain excess calories is essential. Exercise is recommended for 30 minutes a day, at least four days a week.
If the case has become a complication like cirrhosis, medication or surgery will be recommended for the treatment. In case of liver failure, a liver transplant will be necessary.
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