The liver is very active in handling fat. It takes lipoproteins (fats) from the blood, reworks them, and secretes them in a different form. The liver also makes and burns fat. When the balance among these activities changes, fat droplets can accumulate in the liver. So it is normal for the liver to contain some fat, but if fat accounts for more than 10 per cent of the liver’s weight, then you have fatty liver and you may develop more serious complications. Although having this condition may not cause any immediate harm, there is a concern that extra fat in the liver might make the liver vulnerable to further injury such as inflammation and scarring.
Health care providers divide fatty liver disease into two types. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD is a condition when you just have fat but no damage to your liver . On the other hand Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is when you have fat in your liver plus signs of inflammation and liver cell damage
When you have excessive alcohol it can result to Fatty liver disease. However, it is increasingly being found in people who do not drink to excess. These are those who are overweight or obese, or have diabetes. The major factor in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is insulin resistance. This condition usually associated with obesity and overweight. Fatty liver disease can also occur, although far less commonly, with malnutrition, certain medicines and occasionally as a complication of pregnancy.
In short, the most common causes of fatty liver are:
- Consumption of large amounts of alcohol
- Metabolic abnormalities, such as excess body weight, insulin resistance (as can occur in diabetes), and high levels of fats (triglycerides and cholesterol) in the blood
- Certain drugs, including corticosteroids, tamoxifen, and certain chemotherapy drugs
- Hereditary metabolic disorders
Fatty liver disease is sometimes called a silent liver disease as most people have no symptoms. If the liver is enlarged a lot there may be an ache or mild tenderness in the right upper abdomen. At least 80% of persons with fatty liver do not develop any serious problems. Some 10 to 20% people with fatty liver can develop a more serious form of fatty liver (steatohepatitis, termed non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH) . These cause inflammation and fibrosis (scar tissue) in the liver. Occasionally this form of fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Symptoms from NASH may include:
- Severe tiredness
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Spiderlike blood vessels on the skin
- Long-lasting itching
However, these symptoms can take years to develop.
You can diagnose fatty liver after finding an abnormality on liver function tests, which are often done as part of standard blood tests. Other tests which helps to detect it is an abdominal ultrasound. If you see raised concentrations of ALT (alanine aminotransferase) and AST (aspartate aminotransferase), it can be due to fatty liver. Alternatively, your doctor may detect an enlarged liver while examining your abdomen. A biopsy of your liver is the only test that can definitively diagnose this disease, but other tests like ultrasound can be sufficiently suggestive to warrant treatment.
The fatty liver disease is thought to be a harmless condition but has the potential to progress to more serious liver conditions, such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. That’s why it’s important to make changes early in the condition when it can be improved and even reversed.
You should make a serious attempt to lower body weight into the healthy range because weight loss can improve liver tests in patients with NASH and may reverse the disease to some extent. Moroever, you not consume alcohol. You should also avoid medicines that may affect your liver, such as some steroids. You should also quit smoking, thereby reducing your risk of heart disease.
If you are living with fatty liver disease, learn as much as you can about your condition and work closely with your medical team. Since many medications can harm your liver, always let all your health care providers know about any medications you are taking.