The liver is the largest internal organ of the body. It helps to digest food, store glucose and convert toxic substances into less harmful wastes. Normally a healthy liver has some amount of fat in it but when the fat in the liver becomes more than 5 percent of the total weight of the organ then this condition is called as fatty liver disease. This excess fat in liver interferes with metabolic processes and can cause severe problems in the whole body.
Based on the cause of fat accumulation in the liver, this disease can be divided into 2 broad categories-
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease– The liver breaks down most of the alcohol present in the bloodstream, so that it can be removed from the body. But the process of breaking down alcohol generates harmful substances that can damage liver cells and promote inflammation. The more alcohol one consumes, the more harmful waste is generated which damages the cells of the liver. It can be seen in nearly 90% of the heavy drinkers and in most of the cases, can be reversed quickly by abstaining from alcohol. These damaged cells cannot process the fat properly which gets deposited in the liver. If the alcohol intake continues, it can cause further damage to the liver and turn into liver cirrhosis.
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease– If excess fat deposited in the liver is not a result of heavy alcohol consumption, it is regarded as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is still unclear what causes this type of fatty liver but there are some risk factors to it like obesity, high blood cholesterol, diabeties, viral hepatitis, certain medications and autoimmune diseases. It is estimated that around 10 to 30 percent of the Indian population has underlying non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is rare, but sometimes fat can start building up in the liver during pregnancy which is called Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy.
Most of the patients with fatty liver disease are asymptomatic and are incidentally diagnosed during routine blood tests and ultrasound. Some common symptoms of fatty liver disease are-
- Vague pain in the right-upper quadrant
- Fatigue or Tiredness
- Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort)
If the patient has alcoholic fatty liver disease, these symptoms may get worse after a period of heavy drinking.
If the fatty liver disease progresses into liver cirrhosis the patient may also experience generalized swelling, abdominal distention, jaundice, internal bleeding, etc.
The early warning signs of fatty liver disease are so mild and sometimes absent that it is very hard to catch early. To confirm the fatty liver disease, a physician may take some blood tests, ultrasound and liver biopsy.
The treatment of the fatty liver disease depends on pinpointing the exact cause behind it. It has been observed that in the case of alcoholic fatty liver disease, quitting alcohol can greatly improve the metabolic activities and can reverse the damage done to liver cells. In the case of a non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome, it is advisable to reduce weight and stop taking medication without consulting the doctor. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular follow up with your doctor for further treatment is advised.
Dr. Abhishek Jain | Consultant Gastroenterologist | MMI Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Raipur