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Everything You Need to Know About Fatty Liver Disease

Dr. Sohail Ahmed Khan

4 min read

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Are you suffering from fatty liver disease? Below you’ll find all you need to know about it. However, to better understand fatty liver disease, let’s first take a deeper look at the liver, and the functions it performs.

The Liver and Its Functions

Your liver is a vital organ that performs various bodily functions. It performs functions such as:

  • Produces a substance called bile that carries away and breaks down fats in the small intestine, thereby aiding in the digestion of fats.
  • Produces proteins that help in blood clotting.
  • Produces cholesterol and special proteins that help carry fat through the body.
  • Converts excess glucose into glycogen to save as a form of energy.
  • Regulates the levels of amino acids- building blocks of proteins
  • Processes the hemoglobin
  • Stores iron
  • Converts poisonous ammonia into urea
  • Clears the blood from toxins, drugs, and food
  • Produces antibodies that help fight off infection
  • Clears bilirubin from red blood cells too. If bilirubin accumulates in your body, your skin, eyes, and mucus membrane turns yellow- a condition called jaundice.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Fatty liver disease is a condition when fat accumulates in your liver. Your healthcare provider may call it hepatic steatosis. It can occur due to various reasons, but alcohol consumption can increase the risk of developing a fatty liver. However, you can also get it even if you do not drink alcohol. Fatty liver can make it difficult for your liver to work efficiently.

Non- Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease, when occurs without alcohol consumption, is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as NAFLD. It is of two types:

1. Simple Fatty Liver

Simple fatty liver is a condition in which you have fat in your liver. With it, you may not have any inflammation in your liver or any damage to its cells. Usually, it does not cause any such problems. Most people having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have simple fatty liver disease.

2. Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis or NASH

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH is a condition in which you have fat in your liver. But it is a more serious condition than simple fatty liver because it is accompanied by inflammation of the liver cells. The inflammation due to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis can cause serious complications, such as liver scarring, cirrhosis, fibrosis, and liver cancer.

Alcohol-Related Fatty Liver Disease

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease is usually preventable. It gets better when you quit drinking alcohol. But if you keep drinking alcohol, the condition can get worse. It can lead to complications such as:

1. Enlarged Liver

Your liver can enlarge in size due to alcohol-related fatty disease. It may not cause many symptoms. However, you may experience pain in the right side of the upper quadrant.

2. Alcoholic Hepatitis

Inflammation of the liver that occurs due to alcohol intake is known as alcoholic hepatitis. It may cause fever, nausea, vomiting, belly pain, and jaundice- accumulation of bilirubin in your body that causes yellowing of eyes, skin, and mucus membrane.

3. Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Alcoholic cirrhosis is a more serious condition than alcoholic hepatitis. In alcohol cirrhosis, scar tissue forms on your liver, causing the cells to die, eventually affecting the liver function. Alcoholic cirrhosis can lead to symptoms such as:

  • Ascites- fluid build up in the abdomen in large amounts
  • Portal hypertension- high blood pressure in the portal vein- the venous system of the liver
  • Internal bleeding
  • Behavioral changes
  • Confusion
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Liver failure

With heavy and long-term alcohol intake, you may have alcohol-related fatty liver in the initial stage, which may turn, into alcohol hepatitis. With time, it may further turn into alcoholic cirrhosis.

Drinking too much alcohol can harm your body in many ways, especially the liver, therefore you should try to quit it soon. Otherwise, it can lead to serious health conditions. If you find it difficult to stop drinking, you can seek professional help.

Your healthcare providers can help you in getting rid of too much drinking. However, you should taper it off. Do not leave heavy alcohol consumption abruptly as it may cause adverse symptoms. Quit drinking alcohol gradually. In this way, you may be able to do that for the long term with consistency.

If you stop its intake abruptly, you may end up drinking more because of its dependence and the adverse symptoms you get on its withdrawal. Your healthcare providers can help you in this scenario. Therefore you must seek their help.

What Are The Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease?

Usually, alcohol-related fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease do not show any symptoms. In some people, it may show up as lethargy and pain in the right upper quadrant of the stomach.

Non-alcoholic steatosis or cirrhosis may cause the following symptoms.

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Enlarged blood vessels underneath your skin
  • Red palms
  • Gynecomastia- larger than normal breasts in men
  • Jaundice- yellow coloration of eyes, mucus membrane, and skin due to buildup of bilirubin in the body.

What Are The Causes of Fatty Liver Disease?

For alcohol-related liver disease, the most common cause is alcohol. Other factors that can increase the risk of fatty liver are:

  • Obesity
  • Being malnourished
  • Have chronic viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C
  • Age- the older you become, the risk for fatty liver increases

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is more likely if:

  • You are overweight or obese.
  • You have insulin resistance- a condition when your body does not respond to insulin well or if you have type II diabetes.
  • You have high levels of triglycerides or “bad” (LDL) cholesterol or low levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
  • You are older
  • You have polycystic ovarian syndrome.
  • You have hypothyroidism- an underactive thyroid gland.
  • You have sleep apnea.
  • You have hypopituitarism- an underactive pituitary gland.
  • You have lost weight rapidly.
  • You are malnourished
  • You are exposed to toxins and chemicals.
  • You have metabolic syndrome – a condition characterized by:
  1. A large waist size
  2. Low levels of good cholesterol- HDL
  3. High levels of triglycerides or LDL cholesterol
  4. High blood sugar
  5. High blood pressure

Self Care Tips For Fatty Liver Disease

Lifestyle changes that can help with fatty liver disease are:

1. Be Physically Active

Make a routine of physical activity for at least half an hour, five days a week. But if you do not work out already, consult with your healthcare provider first before starting.

2. Be Kind To Your Liver

Do not drink or eat things that are hard for your liver to metabolize. Try to quit alcohol. Take medications only prescribed by your physician. Do not take herbal medications even if it is claimed that they are safe for liver patients.

3. Lower Down Your Cholesterol

Monitor your cholesterol and keep it well under control. To lower it down, eat a healthy diet and exercise daily.

4. Manage Your Diabetes

Keep a check on your blood sugar levels. Make sure you take the medications and insulin on time.

The Bottom Line

Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat accumulates in your liver. Generally, it is not life-threatening. But sometimes, it can lead to serious complications. If you have a complaint of fatty liver, make sure you eat healthily and exercise daily. However, consult with your healthcare provider before incorporating it into your routine.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Sohail Ahmed Khan - Author Dr. Sohail Ahmed Khan is one of the best Gastroenterologist in Multan. Not only does he have a number of certifications including M.B.B.S and F.C.P.S but he also has 11 years of experience in his field.
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