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You may not have heard of this condition if it hasn’t occurred to you or someone you know. Hence the reason why most people are surprised that there exists something called fatty liver disease. What needs to be understood is that, if the condition is left untreated for too long, it can lead to liver failure and even death in worst case scenarios. This is the reason why you need to be aware about it, particularly if you are a habitual or heavy drinker.
Here is all the information you need about what fatty liver disease is, how it occurs, what are its signs and symptoms, and what you can do to avoid it.
Basics of Fatty Liver Disease
All organs contain some amount of fat in them to provide protection and meet the basic needs. But if excessive fat accumulates, it can lead to various kinds of diseases. In the case of the liver, if the fat deposit is more than 5% to 10% of the liver’s weight, then you may be suffering from fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver is divided into two kinds based on the reason for its occurrence, Alcoholic liver disease (ALD) or Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Fatty liver can sometimes occur during pregnancy.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (ALD)
People who are heavy drinkers, or consume high amounts of alcohol on a daily basis can develop the condition known as alcoholic liver disease. Research suggests that this can be in your genes, meaning if your parents or grandparents were alcoholic, it could mean that you are susceptible to the disease, even if you are not a heavy drinker. Keep in mind though, chances of being an alcoholic are high when the condition runs in the family.
Some other factors that lead to acquisition of ALD are:
- Hepatitis C, as that causes inflammation of the liver
- Excessive iron in the body
If the condition is left as is and not treated, it could lead to cirrhosis, scarring of the liver, which can lead to poor liver function. Considered to be the last stage of ALD, cirrhosis is mostly fatal because nothing can be done to reverse the problem. Some common signs and symptoms, other than heavy drinking include:
- Nausea, and belly pain
- Loss of energy leading to fatigue
- Weight loss
- Lack of appetite
- Small, red and spider like blood vessels on skin
- Abnormal bleeding
- Commonly occurring bruises
- Yellowed skin or eyes
- Shrinking of testicles, breast swelling and impotence among men
- Foggy brain and thinking issues
- Pale stool
If you have any of the above mentioned signs or symptoms, you need to see your doctor. Do not forget, the more the problem progresses, the less chance of getting help. Once the doctor has examined and diagnosed the problem, they will usually suggest some lifestyle changes. Here is what you will need to do in order to help get better:
- Stop drinking alcohol completely. If you are an alcoholic, you will need to join a rehabilitation facility
- Identify any causes of inflammation within your body
- Find out what foods you may be sensitive to
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is one that does not occur due to the consumption of alcohol. It is believed to be the most common liver disease in United States. Scientists are still not sure what causes the problem, but it mostly happens to people who have a family history of NAFLD.
Studies show that middle-aged and obese people are more at risk of developing this condition. Diabetes and high cholesterol are other factors that can give way to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Some other causes of the disease include autoimmune or inherited liver disease, malnutrition, viral hepatitis, extreme and rapid weight loss, as well as use of certain medications.
There are a few research programs that depict that when there is too much bacteria in the small intestine, it can cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Common signs and symptoms include:
- Enlarged liver
- Pain in the upper side of abdomen
- Abdominal swelling
- Red palms
- Enlarged spleen
- Enlarged breasts among men
- Large blood vessels beneath skin surface
- Yellowed eyes or skin
If you have any of the above signs or symptoms you need to see your doctor. When NAFLD gets worse, it can convert into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, a serious condition that causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to scarring and irreversible damage. It is pretty close to what happens in alcoholics and can quickly turn into cirrhosis, as well as liver failure. This is the reason why it needs to be diagnosed quickly so that treatment can begin and the liver be saved from any further damage.
Keep in mind that most cases of NAFLD are very treatable and can be managed. With the right diet, exercise, weight management and with diabetes in check, you can manage nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Keep in mind that even if you are not a heavy drinker and do not have NAFLD, losing the habit of drinking is going to help.
Losing weight to get within normal BMI ranges will also help with NAFLD. This can easily be done through use of nutritious diet and regular exercise. Make sure you don’t consume sugary foods/drinks and limit your high-carb diet like rice, bread, potatoes and corn. To find out what foods you may be sensitive to, consider The DNA Uprint from Health Solutions Plus, 716-773-4707.
Acute Fatty Liver in Pregnancy
A rare disease that happens to pregnant women, acute fatty liver is a fat buildup. Remember, this can be dangerous not just for the mother, but the baby as well. It can turn into liver or kidney failure for the baby or the mother. Experts believe it occurs due to fluctuation of hormones during pregnancy.
If the diagnosis is made in late pregnancy, it is best to have the baby delivered quickly. The mother then needs to stay in intensive care for some days but full recovery can be achieved in a few weeks. Please consult your OB/GYN regarding proper liver function during pregnancy.