Fatty Liver disease illustration

Fatty Liver Disease 

The liver is one of the most vital organs that performs a wide range of functions. Some of these functions include digesting food, breaking down nutrients to generate energy, and eliminating toxins. Fatty liver disease is when fat deposits on the walls of the liver, usually due to unhealthy eating and drinking habits. There are two types of fatty liver disease:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD is unrelated to heavy alcohol use. There are two kinds:

  1. Simple fatty liver: The fat in your liver does not inflame or damage the liver cells. The fat rarely aggravates enough to cause liver damage or diseases.
  2. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): The fat on the liver inflames and damages the cells, causing fibrosis, or scarring, of the liver walls leading to liver cirrhosis or cancer.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by heavy alcohol abuse. Your liver metabolises most of the alcohol you drink to eliminate it from the body. But this process can generate harmful by-products. These by-products cause damage to the liver cells, inflame the liver, and hinder your body’s immunity. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the primary stage of alcohol-related liver disease. When left untreated, it leads to alcohol-related hepatitis and liver cirrhosis.

Risks of contracting fatty liver disease?

Even today, the causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) remain unknown to medical experts. Researchers know that it is more common in people with:

  • Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes
  • Obesity
  • Middle-aged or older (children are also at risk of contracting)
  • Hispanic and non-Hispanic whites. It is uncommon amongst African Americans.
  • Higher levels of fats in the blood as cholesterol and triglycerides
  • High blood pressure
  • Drug dependencies, such as corticosteroids and some cancer drugs
  • Certain metabolic disorders, including metabolic syndrome
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Certain viral diseases, such as hepatitis B and C
  • Exposure to toxins that cause hepatic diseases

NAFLD affects around 25% of the global populace. With the increase in the growth rate of type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol levels, the rate of NAFLD has skyrocketed in many countries. Alcoholic fatty liver disease affects heavy drinkers, especially those drinking alcohol for a long time. Women, heavy drinkers, obese people and people with mutated genes are at a higher risk of NAFLD.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease? 

NAFLD and AFLD are silent diseases with few or no symptoms in the initial stages. The few visible symptoms would include fatigue or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.

How is the fatty liver disease diagnosed? 

Firstly, the Liver Transplant Surgeon would need:

  • Your medical history

To know your medical history, your doctor would ask about alcohol intake and history of alcohol abuse to determine whether fat in your liver is a sign of alcoholic fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD). They will also ask which medicines you take to determine whether a drug is a reason behind your NAFLD. 

  • A physical exam

As a part of the physical exam, your doctor will examine your body and monitor your height and weight. Your doctor will try to find any signs of fatty liver disease, such as 

  • An enlarged liver 
  • Symptoms of cirrhosis 
  • Jaundice (yellowness of the skin and eyes)
  • Various tests, including blood and imaging, tests and sometimes a biopsy

You will have to undergo blood tests, liver function tests, and complete blood count (CBC) tests. If needed, you might have to go through imaging tests that check for fat deposits in the liver and the stiffness of the organ. Liver stiffness is a symptom of fibrosis. The doctors might need a biopsy of the liver to confirm the diagnosis and check the extent of damage to the liver.

What are the treatments for fatty liver disease? 

Most doctors recommend weight loss as the first step toward curing NAFLD. Weight loss helps to reduce fat in the liver, soreness, and fibrosis. If your doctor thinks a drug is a reason behind your NAFLD, you must stop consuming that drug immediately. However, it is better to consult a medical expert before stopping prescribed drugs. You may need to get off the treatment gradually, and you might need to switch to another medicine.

There are no approved medicines for treating NAFLD. There is an ongoing investigation on whether a particular diabetes medicine or Vitamin E can help, but more R&D is needed.

The first step toward treating AFLD is to quit alcohol intake. To help you with the alcohol abuse syndrome, see a therapist or reach out to an alcohol recovery program. Some medicines can help, either by reducing your cravings or making you feel sick if you drink alcohol.

Both AFLD and NAFLD lead to liver cirrhosis. Medicines, surgeries, and other medical procedures can help treat AFLD and NAFLD. However, if cirrhosis is unattended and leads to liver failure, you may need a liver transplant surgery or Liver Damage Treatment.

What are some lifestyle changes that can help with fatty liver disease?

In the case of both AFLD and NAFLD, some lifestyle changes can help to reverse the damage caused to the liver: 

  • Eat a healthy and balanced diet with little salt and sugars, fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
  • Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B, the flu and pneumococcal disease. If you contract the hepatitis A or B virus and fatty liver disease, it increases the probability of liver failure which leads to liver failure treatment . People with chronic liver disease are more prone to getting infected, so the other two vaccines are necessary. 
  • Get regular exercise, which helps you lose weight and reduce fat in the liver. 
  • Consult your doctor before using dietary supplements, such as vitamins, complementary or alternative medicines or medical practices. Some herbal remedies can damage your liver.