Fatty Liver: Causes, Symptoms and Treatment Options

Dr. Abhideep Chaudhary

Liver is the second largest organ of our body and the most essential one. Its work is to process everything that we eat or drink, as well as filter out many types of harmful substances from our blood. Liver is also responsible for synthesis of proteins and fat circulating in the blood, as well as glucose. As a consequence, damage to liver causes a metabolic imbalance of our body. In a normal liver, the damaged cells are replaced by new cells as liver cells are capable of regeneration. But when the injury is chronic (happening repeatedly), liver is unable to heal itself completely, and in such circumstances the scar tissue replaces the normal liver tissue. This condition is called Cirrhosis, which means permanent damage to liver. Thus, it is very necessary to do a proper treatment for liver disease before cirrhosis develops.

Fatty Liver Symptoms

Fatty liver is asymptomatic in early stages. The symptoms associated with it may take many years to come. However, having more fat in the liver may bring swelling in the liver and then you may see the following symptoms:

  • Tiredness
  • Not feeling hungry
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Have trouble concentrating
  • Increase in size of liver
  • Abdominal pain

Once the liver disease advances to cirrhosis or liver failure, an individual may notice following symptoms

  • Swelling feet
  • Swelling abdomen (abdomen filled with fluid)
  • Yellowing in skin and eyes
  • Blood vomitings
  • Confusion, loss of consciousness
  • Tendency to bleed more easily

Causes of Fatty liver

The most common cause of fatty liver is drinking alcohol. However, people who do not drink alcohol may also have fatty liver. Fatty liver develops when the body makes too much fat or does not metabolize excessive consumed fat. If this happens, the excess fat gets accumulated in the liver cells and the person gets non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Patients with following conditions are prone to develop Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:

  • Obesity
  • Hyperlipidemia, or high levels cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Genetic
  • Rapid weight gain
  • Side effects of some medicines like steroids, tamoxifen, etc.
Fatty Liver Treatment

There is only one reliable treatment for alcohol induced fatty liver disease; complete abstinence from alcohol. No medicines work in this condition if patient continues to drink alcohol despite liver damage.

NAFLD, if picked up early, can be completely cured by controlling the risk factors of this disease. A few of the recommended things are:

  • Controlling Cholesterol levels in blood
  • Reducing intake of sugar and saturated fatty acids
  • Lose weight
  • Controlling Blood Sugar
  • Regular exercise
  • Eat fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Prefer Chicken or fish in place of red meat

It is important to realize that NAFLD can cause severe liver disease/cirrhosis just like alcoholic liver disease. Once cirrhosis sets in, there is no effective treatment. Hence, diagnosis & treatment of fatty liver before onset of cirrhosis is very important. Every patient with fatty liver should undergo an evaluation to assess the cause & extent of liver disease. A simple ultrasound of abdomen can easily pick up fatty liver.

So, it is advisable for all to undergo a routine ultrasound scanning once in a few years to pick up fatty liver early. Those who are diagnosed to have fatty liver should undergo a proper evaluation by a liver specialist to cure the problem before it develops into cirrhosis.

(By Dr. Abhideep Chaudhary, Director & HOD in HPB Surgery and Liver Transplantation at BLK Super Speciality Hospital, New Delhi)

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