Facts about Fatty Liver and Its Treatment
Fatty liver, also called steatosis, is a general term that is used to describe fat build-up in the liver. Having around 5-10% fat in the liver is a normal condition, but anything above that is excessive and the person is said to have fatty liver disease. Fortunately, this is a reversible condition and in most cases, will vanish on its own. What probably makes it difficult to detect is the fact that this condition does not display any specific symptoms but fortunately, in most cases, it also does not cause any kind of permanent damage.
The Right Functioning
The liver’s function is to process all the food and drink we consume and effectively filter out all the harmful substances from our blood. Excessive fat build-up interferes with this filtering process. The liver is a very interesting organ- It is the 2nd largest organ in the human body and also has the ability to rebuild itself if its older cells are damaged. However, repeated damage causes permanent scarring and is referred to as cirrhosis. Health experts are saying that by the year 2025, India will lead the world in liver diseases.
The main culprits being higher levels of alcohol consumption and increasingly sedentary lifestyles (primarily in urban areas). It is estimated that almost 10-20% of urban Indians now have excess of fat in their liver; however, they have no indications of inflammation or damage. Typically, fatty liver cases are detected in people in the 50-60 years age group and if it is not diagnosed or treated in time, it can cause irrevocable harm to the liver.
Symptoms Fatty Liver
As mentioned earlier, there are no specific and noticeable fatty liver symptoms. In some cases, the liver gets enlarged which will be noticed only when your doctor carries out a very thorough physical examination. If there is inflammation in the liver, there might be some symptoms like:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Sick feeling
- Itchy skin
- Swollen abdomen
- Blood in vomit / stool
The most common cause of liver disease is alcoholism and majority of heavy drinkers suffer from this condition. But certain drugs, toxins as well as inherited metabolic disorders may also cause this disease. Though a lot of research is being carried out across the world, there is not much clarity about what exactly causes liver disease in non-alcoholics. However, it has some connection to obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood cholesterol. Fatty liver is caused when there is excess of fat that cannot be metabolized fast enough and it accumulates in the liver cells. But it has to be understood that consuming a diet that is high in fats does not necessarily lead to a fatty liver.
The Right Diagnosis
In most cases, fatty liver will be noticed only during a routine health checkup. Your doctor may notice some signs of this condition on a regular blood test or after carrying out a physical exam. It might also show up on a liver ultrasound. There are 4 types of fatty liver disease:
- Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFL)– Difficulty in breaking down the fats (non alcohol-related condition)
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver– The initial stage of a alcohol-related condition
- Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)– A fat build-up that results in swelling(non alcohol-related)
- Acute Fatty Liver in Pregnancy– This pregnancy-related condition is very rare, but can be life-threatening. A majority of women improve post delivery.
Since there are different causative factors, the line of treatment will differ too. Based on the condition, the common interventions will be:
- Cholesterol management
- Treatment of alcoholism
- Weight loss
- Blood sugar control
- Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption
- Choosing a healthy diet
- Maintaining a healthy weight
It is clear that fatty liver disease is controllable and curable. But it has to be detected in time and treated appropriately. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, abstaining from excesses of food and alcohol consumption can go a long way in keeping this disease at bay.
Have you ever done an abdomen ultrasound? Has anyone mentioned about fatty liver? What did you do to improve the condition? Do share your recovery story.