What is fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat accumulates in your liver. It could be the most common disease you’ve never heard of. At least 1 out of 4 persons have fatty liver disease. A lot of people with the disease may be unaware that they have it. This liver disease is mild, but it can lead to more severe health problems.
There are two basic types of fatty liver disease:nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease, also called alcoholic steatohepatitis. The extra fat can sometimes trigger changes that stop your liver from functioning well.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease is usually harmless, however, some people develop a more severe form of the disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This occurs when your liver gets swollen, which can lead to cirrhosis (scars on the liver that don’t heal), making you vulnerable to liver cancer and heart disease. Experts think NASH is about to become the leading reason for liver transplants.
Who Does NAFLD Affect?
A person is more likely to have it if you’re:
- Overweight or obese
- High cholesterol/triglycerides
- Have diabetes
- High blood pressure
- Hepatitis C and other liver infections
- Take certain medications, including steroids or drugs for cancer or heart problems.
Most people with this type of fatty liver are middle-aged. But the disease can happen to anyone, kids not excluded.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
People who drink excessively, more than one drink a day for women and two for men can get this type of disease. Also, being obese or a woman raises your chances, too. If you keep drinking, you could go on to have alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, liver failure, and greater risks of liver cancer.
There are no symptoms most of the time, that’s why so many people who have it don’t realize they do. However some people may feel pain or pressure in the middle or right side of their belly, or be very tired. And sometimes, fatty liver and related problems can make you lose weight and lose your appetite.
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Most doctors can miss fatty liver disease because of absence of symptoms. Typical lab tests may not help in detecting it either.
Special blood tests can check how well your liver works. Your doctor may want to perform an ultrasound or CT scan to see how your liver looks. You might need a biopsy, where a small sample of your liver is gotten to check it for signs of disease.
There’s no medicine for fatty liver disease, but there’s a lot you can do on your own to control it or even make it go away. Most important is to change the things about your lifestyle that led to the condition such as:
Obesity is the main cause of NAFLD. Overweight people should consult their doctor to come up with a plan to work off some weight based on healthy eating (with fewer calories) and being more active. A pound or two a week is good. Losing weight excessively can worsen fatty liver disease. Dropping just 3% to 5% of your body weight can help.
Moderate activity like brisk walking for 150 minutes every week can get rid of some of the fat in your liver.
When you have alcoholic fatty liver disease, the most important thing to do is to quit drinking. It may not be easy, but the benefits are big, especially if you detect it early, you may be able to completely reverse the damage. If you think you have a problem with alcohol, talk to your doctor.
Take Care of Your Health
Get treatment for related medical conditions, like diabetes and high cholesterol. Ask your doctor if you can stop taking medications that might cause fatty liver disease or switch to different ones. See your doctor or a liver expert, called a hepatologist to keep on top of any changes you might need to make to your treatment plan over time.
Get shots for Hepatitis
You may need to get shots for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, the flu, and pneumococcal disease to protect your liver and keep you healthy. Also, tell your doctor before you start taking any new medication, vitamin, or supplement. Even over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be hard on your liver.
Exercise regularly. Eat a nutritious diet, with healthy fats and lots of veggies, fruits, and whole grains. Reduce your alcohol consumption. Work with your doctor to manage your health, and follow directions for any medication you take.