Fatty Liver Disease
Health Education

Fatty Liver Disease

Authored by DesiMD Doctor on 19 Mar 2013 - 14:53.

Fatty liver disease (FLD) refers to a condition of the liver whereby there is an accumulation of fat in its cells. There are a number of different starting points for this condition. It is a disease that is prevalent in obese individuals, as well as in people with excessive alcohol intake.

The consequence of the abnormal accumulation of fat in the liver is inflammation of the liver, which may later rupture, leading to a condition known as steatohepatitis.
Due to its different origins, the disease is usually classified as Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD), or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).

Alcoholic FLD:

A person can be diagnosed as having fatty liver when the fat content of the liver is well over about 5% of the total liver weight. It is a reversible condition especially in its early stages, and may occur when there are spikes in the concentration of alcohol in the blood which can happen after sessions of binge drinking. The alcohol acts negatively on the process involved in the breakdown of fats in the cells, causing the cells to accumulate the fats. However the condition can easily be reversed when the person stops consuming alcohol, and the enzymes involved in the breakdown of alcohol do their job and the metabolic activities of the liver gets back to normal.

On the other hand, the disease has also been linked to the genetic makeup of the subjects. In many cases, it has been shown that the quantity and quality of the enzymes involved in alcohol metabolism is linked with the genes which are passed from one generation to the next.  Therefore, for a given quantity of alcohol consumed by normal individuals and those with an inherited weakness in alcohol metabolism, those with the genetic condition are more likely to show development of fatty liver disease.

Moreover, there is an indication that the genetics may play a role on whether a person is predisposed to drinking large quantities of alcohol, thereby increasing the possibility of him becoming an alcoholic. However, since this has a largely behavioral aspect, early training may help stem individuals from developing the condition by moderating their intake of alcohol.

Non-Alcoholic FLD:

When people that drink little or no alcohol develop a fatty liver condition, they are diagnosed as having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  It is usually found in people that are overweight, as well as people that have a high fat diet.  Diabetes has also been linked to the disease, in which case there is also a strong hereditary factor in the prevalence since the condition runs in families. However other causes may be malnutrition, which offsets the metabolism, as well as the intake of certain medications that may interfere with fatty acid metabolism.

One of the most serious issues with the fatty liver disease is that it can go unnoticed for a very long time before it is diagnosed. This means that in most cases, many people are only diagnosed with the condition when they have already reached a pathological level of liver damage.

However, some of the symptoms that have been associated with the onset of the disease involve:
•   Fatigue
•   Loss of appetite
•   Nausea
•   Swollen liver
•  Jaundice, which is a typical indication of liver disease. It is evident in the yellowing of the eyes and the skin

Because these symptoms are also the telltale signs of many different conditions, the best way of diagnosing the condition is by a medical checkup. Fatty liver is usually diagnosed through blood tests, or through physical checkups where the doctor upon palpation (feeling of the organ) might notice pains in the upper abdomen that may indicate a swollen liver.

An enlarged liver will also show up easily in imaging tests like abdominal ultrasound examinations. However the best confirmation of the disease is usually obtained by means of a liver biopsy. In this test, a piece of the liver is extracted and examined under the microscope for excess fat, inflammation, or for signs of damage in the liver. The test also serves to confirm the extent of the damage if any.

Since fatty liver disease arises from different conditions, it is usually treated by addressing the underlying factors that gave rise to the disease. For example, diabetics whose fatty liver problem is linked to their diabetic condition are given appropriate treatment for diabetes.

Alcoholics and those whose fatty liver is linked to alcohol are managed by controlling their alcohol intake. Usually, quitting alcohol altogether is usually recommended for a quick recovery which is usually possible when the diagnosis catches the disease at its early stages.

Overweight individuals are advised to lose weight gradually. It has been shown that reducing weight curbs the progression of FLD, especially of the non-alcoholic type. Combining this with a well-balanced diet will usually go a long way in the healing process.
Taking up some kind of physical activity will improve circulation, as well as burn the excess fat in the body. Physical activity also helps in the stimulation of the organs to produce more enzymes to breakdown and eliminate excess fat, as well alcohol (in the case of alcohol consumption).

In cases where the disease is linked to the consumption of certain medications, the medications are usually changed to others, or in the case of medicines that are judged non essential, completely eliminated.

As a last resort, the damaged liver may have to be removed by surgery and replaced with a healthy one by a liver transplant.

As in any other disease condition, as far as is possible, “prevention is usually better than cure”. Therefore emphasis should be placed on preventing the disease as much as possible. This starts with a complete screening every once in a while(yearly is best).  This will not only help detect FLD in its early stages, but may also detect other pathological developments in the body, giving you enough time to react and reverse the trends.

Knowing that alcohol consumption accounts for about 10% of people with FLD which eventually leads to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancers and even death, it is wise to control alcohol intake. Usually, moderate intake of alcohol will generally do no harm, though it is better to keep alcohol consumption as low as possible.

In families where there is a prevalence of diabetes, obesity and other hereditary factors, regular screening, early training in healthy eating habits and regular physical activity may keep people from developing the fatty liver disease.

*Disclaimer This is not medical advice. The content is for educational purposes only. Please contact your doctor for any health care issues.