What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease is caused by the excessive accumulation of fat in the liver and this is the first effect that excess alcohol can have on the healthy liver. However, in the absence of excessive alcohol consumption, the condition is referred to as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). A proportion of these patients, more worryingly, will have liver inflammation and this is referred to as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
NAFLD is a common condition and it is estimated that it can affect up to 25% of the western population. It is strongly associated with obesity, diabetes mellitus, essential hypertension and hyperlipidaemia; a cluster of conditions referred to as the metabolic syndrome. Diagnosing NAFLD is important in order to make the appropriate interventions, be that lifestyle change or optimising the management of conditions such as high blood pressure or diabetes mellitus, in order to avoid progressive liver disease and reduce cardiovascular risk.
Your Liver Health
A healthy liver should show little or no fat for most people, and carrying even a small amount of fat in the liver could lead to serious medical complications over the long term. The build-up of fat in the liver is caused by triglycerides - the most common fats within our bodies. While fatty liver disease does not always show obvious signs or symptoms, if left untreated, it can lead to significant liver damage, ranging from fibrosis to cirrhosis and the potential for the development of liver cancer.
Who Is Most At Risk?
Like many other health complications, Fatty Liver Disease can be caused by poor diet and low levels of physical exercise.
Possible Causes Include:
- High blood pressure
- Diabetes Mellitus
- High level of cholesterol or triglycerides in the blood
- Rapid weight loss
- Certain drugs including some cancer drugs
How Is Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may have few if any symptoms in the early stages and is often discovered after undergoing tests for general health complaints. Despite this, it is important to be aware of your liver health and lifestyle to prevent ongoing liver damage. It is important to be open and honest about alcohol consumption and diet, which will determine the main drivers of liver fat and inflammation.
Symptoms Of Ongoing Liver Damage Can Include:
- Feeling generally unwell
- Lethargy and fatigue
- Experiencing pain or discomfort in the right side of the abdomen
- Feeling weak or a loss of strength
As part of your assessment your doctor will take a detailed medical history and perform a physical examination.
Tests such as the Fibroscan are recommended as an essential tool for the assessment of your liver health.
Read about Fibroscan with Prof. Patrick Kennedy.
What Are The Treatments For Fatty Liver Disease?
Essentially there are no licenced therapies for the treatment of fatty liver disease. However, lifestyle intervention comprising of healthy eating and regular physical exercise to lose weight are commonly recommended by Doctors to address poor liver health.
By introducing a healthy diet and regular physical activity, the body will reduce levels of excess fat in the liver, moreover, weight loss and a healthier lifestyle can reduce liver inflammation and prevent disease progression. Moderation of alcohol is essential and a review of co-existing conditions such as high blood pressure and diabetes is necessary to avoid the development of chronic liver disease over the long term.