Fatty Liver Disease – Symptoms and Causes

The liver is the body’s largest internal organ. It helps digest food, store glucose and convert toxins into less harmful waste products. Normally, a healthy liver contains a certain amount of fat, but when the fat in the liver accounts for more than 5 percent of the organ’s total weight, the condition is called fatty liver. This excess fat in the liver disrupts metabolic processes and can cause serious problems throughout the body.

Based on the reason for the accumulation of fat in the liver, this disease can be divided into 2 broad categories:

  1. alcoholic fatty liver The liver breaks down most of the alcohol in the bloodstream so it can be removed from the body. But the process of breaking down alcohol produces harmful substances that can damage liver cells and promote inflammation. The more alcohol a person drinks, the more harmful waste products are produced that damage liver cells. This occurs in about 90% of heavy drinkers and in most cases can be quickly remedied by abstinence from alcohol. These damaged cells cannot process fat properly, causing it to accumulate in the liver. If alcohol consumption continues, it can further damage the liver and turn into liver cirrhosis.
  2. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease If the excess fat deposited in the liver is not a result of excessive alcohol consumption, it is considered non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is still not clear what causes this type of fatty liver, but there are some risk factors such as obesity, high blood cholesterol, diabetes, viral hepatitis, certain medications, and autoimmune diseases. It is estimated that about 10 to 30% of the Indian population has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is rare, but sometimes there can be a buildup of fat in the liver during pregnancy, which is called acute fatty liver disease of pregnancy.

Most patients with fatty liver have no symptoms and are accidentally detected during routine blood tests and ultrasound. Some common symptoms of fatty liver disease include:

  1. Dull pain in the upper right quadrant
  2. Exhaustion
  3. malaise (general feeling of discomfort)
  4. Jaundice
  5. nauseous

If the patient has alcoholic fatty liver disease, these symptoms may worsen over time due to excessive drinking.

If fatty liver later progresses to liver cirrhosis, the patient may experience generalized swelling, abdominal distension, jaundice, internal bleeding, etc. The early warning signs of fatty liver are so mild and sometimes negligible that it is very difficult to notice them early. To confirm fatty liver, the doctor may order some blood tests, ultrasound, and liver biopsy.

The treatment of fatty liver depends on knowing the exact cause behind it. It has been observed that in the case of alcoholic fatty liver disease, cessation of alcohol can significantly improve metabolic activities and reverse damage to liver cells. In the case of non-alcoholic fatty liver syndrome, there is no harm in losing weight and stopping medication without consulting a doctor. It is advised to maintain a healthy lifestyle and visit your doctor regularly for further treatment.

Dr. Abhishek Jain, Consultant Gastroenterologist, MMI Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Raipur

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