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Fatty Liver Disease: Symptoms, causes, types and treatment

Team AckoAug 23, 2022

In a study published in 2019, it was discovered that the prevalence of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) was around 9% to 53% in the Indian general population. It is also the most prevalent type of liver disease in the world! If you want to educate yourself about this disease, read ahead. In this article, we will elaborate on Fatty Liver Disease, its symptoms, causes, types and treatments.

Fatty Liver Disease

What is the role of the liver?

The liver is the largest gland and second largest organ in the human body. It fulfils the following essential roles.

  • Storage of iron

  • Protein production

  • Production of bile, which is necessary for digestion

  • Processes nutrients and converts them into energy

  • Removes waste, harmful bacteria and toxic substances from the blood

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Fatty Liver also called hepatic steatosis, is a term used to describe when fat accumulates in the liver. It is normal to have small amounts of fat in the liver; however, having too much can lead to negative health consequences.

Stages of Fatty Liver

Fatty liver is usually not a life-threatening disease. However, if it escalates to the last stage (cirrhosis), it can be fatal. The following are the different stages of Fatty Liver.

  1. Simple Fatty Liver: At this stage, there is an accumulation of fat in the liver, and it is usually harmless.

  2. Steatohepatitis: In this stage, in addition to the excess fat, there is also an inflammation of the liver.

  3. Fibrosis: At this stage, continuous inflammation has led to scarring of the liver; nevertheless, the liver can still carry out its usual functions.

  4. Cirrhosis: This is the last stage, wherein the scarring of the liver is so widespread that it affects its functioning. This is the most critical stage of the four and is not reversible.

What are the types of Fatty Liver?

The following are the two main types of Fatty Liver disease.

  • Alcohol-induced Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)

As its name suggests, AFLD is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. In the early phase of this condition, there is usually no inflammation and other side effects. This stage is called “simple alcoholic fatty liver”. However, there is another phase where the accumulated excess fat is accompanied by inflammation. This stage is called “alcoholic steatohepatitis” (ASH). If not treated on time, ASH can lead to liver fibrosis and later to cirrhosis.

  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

As its name may suggest, this form of Fatty Liver Disease occurs in individuals who do not consume alcohol. In this condition, fat gets accumulated on the liver even without the influence of alcohol. The next phase of this condition is when the fat accumulation on the liver is accompanied by inflammation. This stage is called “nonalcoholic steatohepatitis” (NASH). If NASH is not properly treated, it can lead to liver fibrosis and later progress into cirrhosis and liver failure.

  • Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy (AFLP)

AFLP is a rare but serious condition wherein fat accumulates in the liver usually during the third trimester of pregnancy. If not treated immediately, AFLP can cause serious health problems in the mother and her child. If you are unfortunately diagnosed with AFLP during pregnancy, your doctor may try to deliver your baby as soon as possible. You may also require follow-up medical attention a few days after the delivery, and the condition will likely subside in a few weeks.

Signs and symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

Generally, AFLD and NAFLD do not show symptoms until the cirrhosis stage. However, some individuals display the following Fatty Liver symptoms even in the early stages.

  • Weight loss

  • Weakness

  • Nausea

  • Abdominal pain

  • Swollen legs and abdomen

The following are some of the key Fatty Liver Disease symptoms that can be seen during the cirrhosis stage.

  • Nausea

  • Tiredness

  • Yellow eyes and skin

  • Fluid accumulation in the abdomen

  • Pale stools

  • Confusion

  • Breast enlargement in men

  • Dark-coloured urine

  • Itchy skin

  • Loss of appetite

  • Easy bruising

What causes Fatty Liver Disease?

As mentioned earlier, the cause of AFLD is excessive consumption of alcohol. However, the precise causes for NAFLD and AFLP are unknown. Nevertheless, based on risk factors, the following are the speculated Fatty Liver causes in humans.

  • Insulin resistance

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Obesity

  • Genetic factors

  • High quantities of fat in the blood, especially triglycerides

  • Side-effects of medication

  • Hepatitis C

  • Pregnancy

How is Fatty Liver Disease diagnosed?

The following are some common tests used to diagnose Fatty Liver Disease.

  • Blood tests: Elevated liver enzymes in the blood is a strong indicator of inflammation in the liver. Thus, doctors usually order blood tests to check this.

  • Physical examination: In some cases, doctors press the abdomen region of the body to check for liver enlargement.

  • Liver biopsy: In this procedure, a doctor will insert a needle and take out liver tissue samples to test for liver scarring and disease.

  • Imaging studies: Doctors sometimes use imaging tests like MRI, CT scan, ultrasound, etc., to examine the condition of the liver.

Treatments for Fatty Liver Disease

There are currently no Fatty Liver treatments or medications available. However, this condition can be reversed in the early stages by making certain lifestyle changes. Unfortunately, once the Fatty Liver Disease reaches the cirrhosis stage, damage to the liver becomes irreversible. At this stage, the only option available is undergoing a liver transplant.

How to prevent Fatty Liver Disease

Based on the risk factors for this condition, the following are some ways to prevent the onset of Fatty Liver Disease.

  • Try to exercise for 30 minutes every day

  • Reduce weight

  • Eat a nutritious diet

  • Limit or abstain from alcohol consumption

Fatty Liver diet tips

Here are some dietary tips to prevent or reverse Fatty Liver Disease.

  • Eat a balanced diet with foods from all the food groups.

  • Limit your consumption of alcohol according to your doctor’s advice.

  • Drink water regularly, as this is known to keep the liver healthy.

  • Reduce consumption of high-calorie foods.

  • Eat fibre-rich foods like whole grains and legumes.

  • Reduce consumption of foods containing high quantities of trans fats, salt, saturated fats and refined carbohydrates.

Frequently asked questions

The following are some of the frequently asked questions regarding Fatty Liver Disease.

What does Fatty Liver mean?

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Fatty Liver means the excess fat that is present in the liver.

What is Grade 1 Fatty Liver?

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Grade 1 Fatty Liver is the early stage of Fatty Liver wherein the excess accumulated fat in the liver does not affect the organ’s functioning. Thus, individuals with this condition usually get diagnosed only by accidental ultrasounds or other tests.

Is mild Fatty Liver Disease reversible?

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Yes, mild Fatty Liver Disease is reversible, provided you make certain lifestyle changes as per your doctor’s advice.

How to reduce Fatty Liver?

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You can reduce Fatty Liver by making lifestyle changes like limiting alcohol consumption, eating nutritious food, exercising regularly, losing weight, etc.

Is Fatty Liver dangerous?

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In the initial stages, Fatty Liver disease is not fatal and does not hinder the regular functioning of the liver. However, in the last stage, namely, cirrhosis, the functioning of the liver gets affected completely and can be life-threatening to the host.

What are the foods to avoid with Fatty Liver Disease?

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If you are diagnosed with Fatty Liver Disease, you should avoid food containing trans fats, saturated fats, carbohydrates, etc.

What are the reasons for Fatty Liver Disease development?

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Although the exact reasons are unknown, some speculated reasons for developing Fatty Liver Disease include the following.

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Obesity

  • Insulin resistance

  • Hepatitis C

  • Genetic disorders

  • Side-effects of certain medicines

How to cure Fatty Liver Disease?

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Fatty Liver Disease cannot be instantly cured. However, it can be gradually reversed by following a few lifestyle changes as suggested by your doctor.

References: 

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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