Home Health A-Z Cardiology ALL ABOUT FATTY LIVER DISEASE

ALL ABOUT FATTY LIVER DISEASE

What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease is the buildup of excess fat in the liver. Excessive consumption of alcohol may lead to the fatty liver, which can lead to a severe form of liver damage if the individual continues to drink excess alcohol.

In the last 30 years, doctors have realized that there are a large number of patients who drink very little alcohol or no alcohol, but still have excess fat in the liver. This disorder is known as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). And, this form of fatty liver can lead to liver swelling (inflammation), liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Fatty liver is an extremely common liver disease and is estimated to affect up to 5-20 percent of Indians.

Who is at risk for developing NAFLD?

Most common in people who are overweight, NAFLD can affect men, women and children of all ages. The risk is further increased in people with high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. Having a diet rich in fat, calories and fructose is also associated with fatty liver disease. Obesity is increasing in urban India at an alarming rate. More and more individuals are currently being diagnosed with diabetes. Since obesity and diabetes are the major risk factors for fatty liver, it is estimated that serious forms of fatty liver disease is going to be a major cause of death in these patients in the next 10-20 years.

What are the stages of fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver progresses typically through the following stages:

  • Simple fatty liver
  • Fatty liver with inflammation (known as NASH or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis)
  • Fatty liver with liver scarring or liver hardening (also called liver cirrhosis)

It is estimated that simple fatty liver may affect 5-20 per cent of Indians. The good news is that most those with simple fatty liver do not progress to severe liver damage. Yet, few individuals, particularly those with several risk factors, will advance towards liver cirrhosis. Once liver cirrhosis develops, there is a high risk of liver failure, liver cancer and death.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver?

Most individuals with fatty liver do not have any symptoms, although some may experience dull pain on the right side of the stomach, due to enlargement of the liver. Other symptoms are general fatigue, nausea, and loss of appetite. Once cirrhosis develops, and liver failure sets in, there may be yellowness of the eyes (jaundice), accumulation of fluid (edema), vomiting of blood, mental confusion and jaundice.

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?

Fatty liver is generally noticed during routine checkups when a doctor finds an enlarged liver. Ultrasound scan might show fat in the liver, while blood tests of liver may not be normal. There are some new tests known as “Fibroscan” and “Fibrotest” that are more reliable. It is important to recognize the risk factors for fatty liver and perform annual checkups with your doctor so that the disease is detected early.

Why is fatty liver disease dangerous?

Fatty liver is a ‘silent disease’. It may cause no symptoms until the condition progresses to liver cirrhosis and liver failure. It is important to detect this disease at an early stage when its progression can be halted or slowed down.

How is fatty liver treated?

Currently, there is no medication to treat fatty liver. Early fatty liver is usually easily reversed by dietary changes, weight loss, exercise and control of risk factors such as diabetes. As liver damage becomes more severe, cirrhosis and liver failure can develop and at this stage only a liver transplant can save the life of the patient. Some patients who are obese and have fatty liver may benefit from weight loss (bariatric) surgery.

How to reverse and prevent fatty liver disease?

  • Manage your weight. Lose weight, if you are overweight (avoid losing weight rapidly). Stay away from vigorous diet programs that recommend starvation diets.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes per day.
  • Reduce fat consumption in diet.
  • Say no to carbohydrate-rich diet (white rice, potatoes, white bread). These get absorbed quickly from our intestines and convert itself to fat in the liver. Food items that get absorbed slowly, such as grains, pulses, nuts, unprocessed fruit including apples and oranges are beneficial.
  • Avoid drinking too many juices and carbonated drinks rich in fructose. Also, be cautious of eating too many fruits.
  • Antioxidants like Silymarin, vitamins C and E may have some benefit. Talk to your doctor before using these.
  • Antioxidants like Silymarin, vitamins C and E may have some benefit. Talk to your doctor before using these.
  • Perform annual health checkups. Check your liver enzymes, blood sugar and cholesterol levels every year.
  • If you have hypertension and diabetes, treat it effectively.
  • Even if you are a moderate or light alcohol drinker, it is advised to stop alcohol consumption completely.

Conclusion

The fatty liver epidemic is a silent, but a very real threat to the health of individuals. Risk factors for fatty liver disease like obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are increasing in the urban India at an alarming rate. Although seldom talked about, the liver performs over 500 functions and is a bigger workhorse than even the heart. Therefore, maintaining health of the liver should be the primary concern for everyone. Failing to do so is a true death sentence. Be proactive in treating fatty liver early in its course and don’t wait for it to worsen before you take action. By then it may already be too late.

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