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 total weight of the organ, this 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 cause of fat accumulation in the liver, this disease can be divided into 2 broad categories:

  1. 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 products are produced that damage the cells of the liver. It occurs in nearly 90% of heavy drinkers and can be quickly reversed in most cases by abstaining from alcohol. These damaged cells cannot properly process the fat that ends up in the liver. If alcohol intake continues, it can cause further damage to the liver and turn into liver cirrhosis.
  2. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease– If excess fat in the liver is not the result of excessive alcohol consumption, it is considered non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is still unclear 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 percent of the Indian population has underlying non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It is rare, but sometimes fat can build up in the liver during pregnancy, which is called acute fatty liver disease in pregnancy.

Most patients with fatty liver disease are asymptomatic and diagnosed incidentally during routine blood tests and ultrasound. Some common symptoms of fatty liver disease include:

  1. Vague pain in the upper right quadrant
  2. Fatigue or tiredness
  3. Malaise (a general feeling of discomfort)
  4. Jaundice
  5. nausea

If the patient has alcoholic fatty liver disease, these symptoms may become worse after a period of heavy drinking.

If the fatty liver progresses to liver cirrhosis, the patient may also experience generalized swelling, abdominal distension, jaundice, internal bleeding, etc.

The early warning signs of fatty liver disease are so mild and sometimes absent that it is very difficult to spot them early. To confirm fatty liver disease, a doctor may perform some blood tests, ultrasound, and liver biopsy.

The treatment of the fatty liver depends on finding 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, it is advisable to lose weight and stop taking medications without consulting the doctor. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and regular follow-up with your doctor for further treatment is advised.

Dr. Abishek Jain | Consultant Gastroenterologist | MMI Narayana Super Specialty Hospital, Raipur

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