Did you know that the largest organ in your body is the liver? It is! This organ is responsible for removing poisons, digesting food and storing energy. Just a few reasons why it is so important to keep your liver healthy. Nearly 25% of people in the world develop fatty liver.
There are various forms of liver disease. Some are related to viruses, hereditary issues or cancer. One common issue that arises, is fatty liver disease.
What is fatty liver disease?
This is caused by the build up of fat in your liver. There are two common types of fatty liver disease; Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Alcoholic Steatohepatitis.
What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)?
This is a term used to cover the various diseases of the liver that do not have any connection to alcohol. There are two types of fatty liver disease that are not related to alcohol: Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and simple fatty liver.
What is Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)?
This is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease that mimics damage caused by alcohol. Patients with NASH not only have increased fat in their livers but inflammation and damage to the cells. The scarring can reach a severity level that becomes what is known as cirrhosis of the liver. Even with treatment this may lead to liver failure.
What is simple fatty liver disease?
This is a condition where the patient has a fatty liver but does not have inflamed or damaged cells. This condition rarely causes damage that is severe enough to cause additional medical issues.
What is alcoholic fatty liver disease?
Just as it sounds, this occurs when the patient is or has been a heavy alcohol drinker. Your liver breaks down alcohol and helps remove it from your body. When the liver processes high quantities of alcohol, the substances left behind cause liver cell damage and inflammation. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the early onset of alcohol related liver disease which can lead to cirrhosis.
Who is at high risk of fatty liver disease?
Certain groups of people tend to be more likely to develop it. In addition, there are various medical conditions that increase the risk of developing the disease.
- Anyone middle aged and older
- Hispanic and whites are more likely than African Americans
- Patients with some infections like Hepatitis C
- Patients receiving certain cancer drugs.
In addition, if you are suffering from certain other medical issues that will increase the risk of NAFLD.
- Diabetes type 2
- High blood pressure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Underactive pituitary glands
- Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- High levels of fats in your blood (cholesterol and triglycerides)
What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?
Patients rarely experience symptoms. If any develop they tePatients rarely experience symptoms. If any develop they tend to be fatigue and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.
If the fatty liver created inflammation then some symptoms may arise. Examples are a decreased appetite, increased fatigue, confusion, weight loss or abdominal pain.
If the condition progresses to cirrhosis or liver failure, the patient will have more symptoms. Jaundice, confusion, increased bleeding and an enlarged abdomen due to fluid buildup. The Mayo Clinic also shares that abdominal swelling, enlarged spleen, red palms or enlarged blood vessels near the skin may indicate cirrhosis.
How is this disease diagnosed?
Most often it is discovered while the doctor is testing for other related issues. The lack of initial symptoms makes it a silent disease and not easily detected. The doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and various tests. The tests may include blood work and imaging that could be followed by a biopsy.
What are the complications?
Without lifestyle changes or use of medications your doctor has prescribed, either disease can lead to cirrhosis. This is when the healthy tissue becomes overly scarred. The scarring makes it difficult for blood to flow. When that occurs, the organ struggles to process nutrients, natural toxins, hormones and medications.
What are the symptoms of cirrhosis?
Cirrhosis develops slowly as the healthy tissue becomes scarred. During the early stages there may not be any symptoms present. As the disease progresses there are many possible symptoms.
- Itchy skin
- Bruising easily
- Loss of appetite
- Blood in the stool
- Palms become red
- Light colored stools
- Abdominal fluid retention
- Urine with brown or orange coloring
- Edema (swelling in feet, ankles and/or legs)
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes)
- Sudden or unexplained change in body weight.
- Blood vessels near the skin become more prominent.
- For Women: Limited or lack of a menstrual cycle (not menopause)
- For Men: Testicular atrophy, gynecomastia or diminished labido
How can I treat my fatty liver?
Weight loss is often the first step to treatment. Lifestyle changes include eating a healthy diet made up of many fruits, vegetables and whole grain foods. Decrease how much salt or sugar you eat. Develop an exercise plan you can commit to. This will help to reduce weight and the fat in your liver.
Your doctor should review all of your current medications. If any could lead to fatty liver, they may be discontinued by your doctor. As with all medications, you and your doctor will decide if the benefits outweigh the side effects. Only change medications under your doctor’s supervision. You may also be prescribed a new medication for NAFLD.
If the fatty liver is alcohol related, the first and most important step is to discontinue drinking alcohol. Talk to your doctor to find out the resources available to you to help. If the first resources used do not work for you, don’t give up. Reach out to your doctor again for more advice
One last step to treating or preventing this disease is to make sure your vaccinations are current. They should include ones for Hepatitis A and B and the flu vaccine.
What foods help fatty liver?
A well-balanced diet is key to any healthy lifestyle. When trying to slow the progression of this disease there are some foods that are better than others. Consider reading, The Easy Meal Plan that Will Get You Lean in Four Weeks.
Lots of fruits and vegetables are a great starting point. High fiber foods are also important when thinking about NAFLD. During meal preparation, keep in mind that you do want to limit sugar and salt intake. Trans and saturated fats are to be avoided as well.
This diagnosis doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a large variety of foods. The internet is a treasure trove of recipes and cooking techniques. Explore and find what fits your lifestyle and tastes.
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