Fat is the source of energy for your body. But too much fat can lead to more than just weight gain. It can cause a fatty liver.
What is nonalcoholic fatty liver?
The liver is an organ in the upper right of your abdomen. The role of the liver is to including eliminating toxins from your body, produce protein, and produce bile necessary for digestion. The normal human liver weight is 1.44 – 1.66 kg.
Normally, it’s OK to have fat in the liver, but too much fat in the liver is called fatty liver disease. There are two types of fatty liver disease: nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) and alcoholic liver disease (ALD).
To put it simply, nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is when the fat build up in the liver reaches over 5%-10% the weight of the liver even when you don’t drink alcohol. It is a common disease and in a mild case, it might not cause sign or symptom or complication at all. However, in more severe cases, it can lead to inflammation and scarring of the tissue.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver is typically a chronic condition. Nonalcoholic fatty liver is more common now as the cases of obesity and weight gain is now more common in the world.
What are the types of the nonalcoholic fatty liver?
As mentioned before, there are four types of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, from harmless to life threatening. They include:
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD). This type is the least serious. There is fat build up in your liver but it won’t hurt you. It’s quite common to have this type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease these days.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In this type, the fat build up can cause inflammation in the liver. Thus, damage parts of the liver, leading to scarring and reduce liver function.
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease-associated cirrhosis. Liver inflammation leads to severe scarring and liver failure (liver unable to function anymore).
What are the causes of nonalcoholic fatty liver?
There is no clear cause for nonalcoholic fatty liver. Some doctors thought it could be:
- Viral hepatitis: Some studies show that too much virus or bacteria in your small intestine and other changes in the intestine may be linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance refers to a state in which the body does not respond adequately to insulin.
- Medications and toxins: Several drugs used to treat medical conditions have been linked to NASH, including amiodarone (brand names: Cordarone, Pacerone), tamoxifen (brand names: Nolvadex, Tamone), perhexiline maleate (brand name: Pexhid), steroids (e.g., prednisone, hydrocortisone), synthetic estrogens and toxic pesticides.
- Weight loss: Fast weight loss can contribute to a fatty liver.
- Diet: Poor eating habits
- Pregnancy: It’s rare, but fat can build up in your liver when you’re pregnant. It could be very harmful to you and your child.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver can occur with other liver diseases and often make the liver damage worse. Conditions frequently associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver are:
- Obesity: About 70% of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver are obese.
- Diabetes: Up to 75% of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver have type 2 diabetes.
- Hyperlipidemia: About 20 to 80% of people with nonalcoholic fatty liver have hyperlipidemia (high blood triglyceride levels and/or high blood cholesterol levels).
Who are at risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver?
You’re at an increased risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver if you:
- Are obese or overweight, especially around your waist;
- Have type 2 diabetes;
- Have high blood pressure;
- Have high cholesterol;
- Have high triglycerides;
- Are over the age of 50;
However, nonalcoholic fatty liver has been diagnosed in people without any of these risk factors, including young children.
What are the symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver is a silent disease and often has no symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may include:
- Enlarged liver;
- Weight loss;
- Loss of appetite;
- Abdominal pain;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Spider-like blood vessels;
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice);
- Itching, fluid build-up and swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites);
- Mental confusion.
Acute fatty liver is a complication of pregnancy that rare and can be life threatening. You can see signs and symptoms at the beginning of the third trimester. This include:
- Persistent nausea and vomiting;
- Pain in the upper-right abdomen;
- General malaise.
What are the complications may happen?
Most people will not notice that they have nonalcoholic fatty liver. Without management, it could get worse and lead to serious liver damage.
The main complications of nonalcoholic fatty liver are:
- Fibrosis: inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver and nearby blood vessels, but the liver is still able to function normally.
- Cirrhosis: the most severe stage, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy; this damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure (where your liver stops working properly) and liver cancer.
It can take years for fibrosis or cirrhosis to develop. It’s important to make lifestyle changes to prevent the disease from getting worse.
How is nonalcoholic fatty liver diagnosed?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver is most often discovered during your routine checkup. The first sign is often in the imaging test. Your doctor might need other tests to check if you have any liver condition that could occur with nonalcoholic fatty liver. Other ways your doctor might spot the disease are:
- Blood tests are used to check for viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, B, or C).
- Liver function tests to measure the liver function and levels of substances produced or metabolized by the liver.
Your doctor might request some additional tests to confirm the presence of nonalcoholic fatty liver, but sometimes a liver biopsy is required to confirm it. For a liver biopsy, a needle is inserted through the skin to remove a small piece of the liver.
What are the treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver?
There is no specific treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver. Instead, doctors typically work to treat the risk factors that contribute to your liver disease. Several new drugs are being tested in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver but none has yet proven to be beneficial in large, long-term studies. However, you can improve your condition by managing your diabetes.
How can I manage my nonalcoholic fatty liver?
Most people with nonalcoholic fatty liver won’t develop any serious complication if found out early. If you are diagnosed with the condition, there are a few things you could do to not make your condition worse:
Weight loss is the first step of management. Losing weight can help to reduce levels of liver enzymes, insulin, and can improve the quality of life. You should not lose weight too fast (no more than 1.6 kg per week) because losing weight rapidly can worsen your liver damage. You can ask your doctor for the best weight loss plan.
Even if you don’t have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, you still should avoid alcohol. Some dish might be cooked with alcohol or some medication (cough syrup) has alcohol in them.
Last but not least, you need to have a balanced and healthy diet and get regular exercise. You might need to limit some of the food you eat. Learn about which nutrients to heal the liver.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Review Date: September 19, 2016 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017
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