With the exception of the brain, the liver is the most complex organ in the body. Fatty Liver Disease is a term for conditions where fat builds up in the cells of the liver. It can be caused by drinking too much alcohol or it may be unrelated to alcohol.
Fatty liver disease is becoming one of the most common types of liver diseases and can sometimes lead to serious health problems.
If the liver is healthy, there should be little or no fat in it. However, sometimes, fat molecules begin to collect in the liver cells. Small amounts of fat in the liver usually cause no problems. However, when too much fat builds up, this is called fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease can lead to an inflamed liver and scarring. This is called alcoholic hepatitis if it’s caused by drinking too much alcohol; and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis if it’s not related to alcohol.
- Obesity. Most people with fatty liver are obese or overweight.
- Diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes have an increased risk of developing non alcoholic fatty liver.
- Age. Fatty liver is more common in people aged 50 years and over. It is also more common in men.
- High blood pressure (hypertension). People with hypertension are at a greater risk of developing non alcoholic fatty liver.
- High level of blood fats (hyperlipidaemia). High level of cholesterol and/or triglycerides in the blood increases the risk of developing non alcoholic fatty liver.
- Chemotherapy: For example, methotrexate and tamoxifen can, rarely, cause non alcoholic fatty liver.
- Alcohol excess predisposes to alcoholic liver disease.
- Others include: Polycystic ovarian syndrome, starvation or rapid weight loss.
Symptoms of fatty liver disease: Non alcoholic fatty liver disease usually causes no signs and symptoms. When it does, they may include fatigue, pain in the upper right abdomen, weight loss.
Complications: A swollen abdomen, itchy skin, vomiting and bringing up or passing blood, bruising easily, confusion or poor memory, weakness and muscle wasting, yellowing of the whites of the eyes and skin (jaundice).
Diagnosis of fatty liver disease: Fatty liver disease can sometimes be difficult to diagnose because one may not have any symptoms. There is no single test that can be used to diagnose fatty liver disease, but one may carry out some of the following tests:
- Blood test. Blood tests to detect various viruses (Hepatitis B and C) and other liver-related chemicals. Liver function tests are tests that are done for various reasons.
- Ultrasound or scan. An ultrasound, CT scan or MRI scan can all be used to create images of your liver. These images will show any fat in the liver.
- Liver biopsy. This helps to confirm how much damage there is to the liver.
You may be able to prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by:
- Maintaining a healthy weight for your height.
- Being active – try to do at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week.
- Eating healthy foods that are low in saturated fat
- Those who are obese or overweight, a gradual weight loss and regular exercise are advised. This not only helps with fatty liver but will help reduce your risk of developing cardiovascular problems.
- It is advised not to drink too much alcohol; even modest amounts of alcohol may make fatty liver worse.
Alcoholic Fatty liver disease is reversible. The liver should return to normal if one stops drinking alcohol for two weeks. Even if one has been a heavy drinker for many years, reducing or stopping alcohol intake will have important short- and long-term benefits for the liver and overall health.