Overview of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term for a wide variety of liver conditions that affect people who drink less alcohol. As the name implies, the main feature of NAFLD is the high storage of fat in the liver cells.
NAFLD is more common around the world, especially in Western countries. In the United States, it is the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting about a quarter of the population.
Some people with NAFLD can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease, which is diagnosed with hepatitis and can lead to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure. This loss is equivalent to the damage caused by excessive alcohol consumption.
What are the forms of fatty liver disease?
There are two main types of fatty liver disease:
Alcoholic liver disease
Alcoholic fatty liver means excessive consumption of fat in the liver. (Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink a day for women and two drinks a day for men.) 5% of people have this type of liver disease.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Alcohol causes fatty liver disease in people who don’t drink much. This condition affects one in three adults and one in 10 children in the United States. Researchers have not found the exact cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Many factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can increase your risk.
Who gets fatty liver disease?
You are more likely to have fatty liver disease if:
- Hispanic or Asian.
- The woman who has stopped menstruating (woman who has stopped menstruating).
- You have high levels of belly fat.
- You have high blood pressure, diabetes, or high cholesterol.
- You have obstructive sleep apnea (a blocked airway causing sleep apnea).
Symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver
In many cases of NAFLD, there are no recognizable symptoms. When there are symptoms, they usually include:
- Pain in the upper right part of the abdomen.
- Enlarged liver or spleen (usually seen by a doctor during an exam).
- Ascites or swelling in the abdomen.
- Jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes.
When NAFLD progresses to cirrhosis, symptoms can include:
- Psychological confusion
- Internal bleeding
- Fluid retention
- Loss of healthy liver function
Causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver
Experts don’t know why some people accumulate fat in the liver and others don’t. Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that leads to cirrhosis. Both NAFLD and NASH are linked to:
- Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t absorb the sugar in response to a hormone called insulin.
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.
- High levels of fats in the blood, especially triglycerides.
These mixed health problems promote fat storage in the liver. For some, this extra fat acts as a toxin for liver cells, causing inflammation and inflammation of the liver, leading to the formation of scar tissue in the liver.
Many diseases and conditions increase your risk for NAFLD, including:
- High cholesterol
- Blood is high in triglycerides
- Metabolic syndrome
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Sleep apnea
- Type 2 diabetes
- Dysfunctional thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Dysfunctional pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
NAFLD usually has no symptoms. Therefore, the diagnosis often begins after a blood test confirms that the level of liver enzymes is higher than normal. A standard blood test will reveal this result.
High levels of liver enzymes also indicate other liver diseases. Other conditions must be ruled out before your doctor can diagnose NAFLD.
Ultrasound of the liver can help reveal excess fat in the liver. Another type of ultrasound called transient elastography measures the appearance of your liver.
If these tests are not complete, your doctor may recommend a liver biopsy. In this test, the doctor removes a small sample of liver tissue with a needle inserted through your abdomen. The sample is studied in the laboratory for signs of inflammation and scarring. If you have symptoms like abdominal pain, jaundice, or swelling on the right side, see a doctor.
Treatment for fatty liver disease
Despite some clinical trials, no drugs have been approved for NAFLD.
Generally, the first line of treatment is weight loss. Helps reduce fat, inflammation, and scarring in the liver. Losing just 3% to 5% of your body weight can reduce the amount of fat in your liver. Weight loss surgery is also an option if you have a lot to lose.
You should also abstain from alcohol. This is the only way you can prevent liver damage. It can also undo some of the liver damage that has already occurred. Talk to your doctor about how you can get help. You may need a doctor-supervised detox program to safely stop drinking and maintain withdrawal symptoms.
Self-care for fatty liver disease
Lifestyle changes can help:
- Do more exercise. Try to be active for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week. If you are trying to lose weight, you may find it helpful to exercise more.
- Show kindness to your liver. Don’t do hard work. Avoid alcohol. Take only prescription and over-the-counter medications. Talk to your doctor before trying any herbal remedy. Just because a product is natural does not mean it is safe.
- Lower your cholesterol. Eat a healthy plant-based diet, exercise, and take your medications. Keeps your cholesterol and triglyceride levels where they need to be.
- Manage your diabetes. Check your blood sugar level and take the medicine as prescribed by your doctor.
Lifestyle and home remedies
With the help of your doctor, you can take steps to control your alcoholic fatty liver disease. You can:
- Weight loss. If you are overweight or behind, reduce the number of calories you eat each day to gain weight and increase your physical activity. Reducing calories is crucial to losing weight and managing this disease. If you have tried to lose weight in the past and have not been successful, ask your doctor for help.
- Choose a healthy diet. Eat a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and keep track of all the calories you eat.
- Manage your diabetes. Follow your doctor’s instructions to keep your diabetes under control. Take your medication as prescribed and monitor your blood sugar closely.
- Lower your cholesterol. A healthy plant-based diet, exercise, and medications can help keep cholesterol and triglycerides at healthy levels.
Complications of fatty liver disease
The main risk of NAFLD is cirrhosis, which can limit your liver’s ability to do its job. Your liver has several important functions, including:
- Producing bile, which helps break down fats and remove waste from the body.
- Metabolizing medication and toxins.
- Balancing fluid levels in the body through protein production.
- Processing haemoglobin and storing iron.
- Converting ammonia in your blood to harmless urea for excretion.
- Storing and releasing glucose (sugar) as needed for energy.
- Producing cholesterol, which is necessary for cellular health.
- Removing bacteria from the blood.
- Producing immune factors to fight infections.
- Regulating blood clotting