According to some recent researches, more than 80 to 100 million people across the world are suffering from fatty liver disease.
What is fatty liver?
Fatty liver is also known as Steatohepatitis. The accumulation of fat cells in the liver accounting for more than 5-10% of the liver causes fatty liver. Fatty liver is of two types - alcoholic and non- alcoholic.
The fatty liver cells when accumulated in the liver, can lead to inflammation in the liver and cause destruction to the surrounding tissues. The condition which is not related to excessive alcohol intake is called non-alcoholic fatty liver. In such type of conditions, the liver is not able to breakdown the fat deposits.
Pregnancy-related fatty liver
This usually happens in the third trimester of pregnancy. It is a rare condition and can be fatal. The sign and symptoms include:
Pain in the upper right abdomen
If consulted on time, the treatment is given based on treating complications and safer delivery. If timely treated, women do not suffer any post-delivery complications.
How does fatty liver occur?
According to the most prevailed theory so far, the fatty liver develops due to insulin resistance, which causes obesity. People with insulin resistance have the inability to respond normally to insulin, due to which the blood sugar moves into the bloodstream, further increasing the risk of developing diabetes and cardiac disorders.
Signs indicating fatty liver
The mild stages of fatty liver do not show much signs and symptoms. If the condition progresses to a later stage, the patient will start noticing the following symptoms:
Further progression of the condition can be manifested as:
Enlargement of abdomen
Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
Enlargement of blood vessels beneath the blood vessels
Redness in the palms
Paleness in the skin and the eyes
Enlargement of the breast in men
Most common causes of fatty liver
Some of the most common reasons that lead to the development of fatty liver are listed below.
Excessive alcohol consumption
Hyperlipidemia (higher levels of triglycerides content in the blood)
Side effects of certain drugs like tamoxifen, amiodarone, valproic acid, methotrexate etc.
How is it diagnosed?
Once you experience the above-mentioned symptoms persistently for a few days, you must consult a hepatologist. The doctor will take a detailed medical history about your past illnesses and patterns of the changes in signs and symptoms. It is important to tell your doctor if you have any family history of liver disorders or habits like alcohol, smoking etc. This will be followed by the following tests:
The doctor will conduct a physical examination by palpating various regions of the abdomen. The physical exam tells about any swelling or enlargement in liver, spleen or any other area.
The blood samples are taken from the patient and sent to the laboratory to check:
Complete blood count
Liver enzyme and liver function test
Chronic viral hepatitis (A and C)
Celiac disease screening test
Fasting blood sugar
Lipid profile (including cholesterol and triglycerides)
Celiac disease screening test
Ultrasound - This is the primary investigation after the blood tests.
CT (Computerized tomography) scan and MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) - They provide more details with precision than the ultrasound. However, they cannot distinguish between alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver.
Transient elastography - This is an enhanced form of MRI which detects the amount of stiffness in the liver. This helps is diagnosing liver fibrosis or scarring.
Magnetic resonance elastography - This is a combination of the magnetic resonance imaging and the patterns form by sound waves that come from the liver to produce a vision. The image generated depicts the extent of stiffness throughout the liver.
The final test to detect the fatty liver and its further stages is a liver biopsy. This is a sure-shot investigation in which a sample of tissue is extracted from the liver by inserting a small needle. The sample is sent in the diagnostic laboratory for detailed investigations. The biopsy looks out for the type of cells present in the liver. The microscopic examination of the fatty liver tissue reveals the appearance of hepatic macrovesicular steatosis and accumulation of lipid in the hepatocytes (fat cells).
How is fatty liver cured?
The entire treatment for fatty liver disease is based upon the lifestyle changes. Following changes must be made to reverse the condition:
Weight loss - Gradual weight loss associated with dietary changes and regular exercise is a significant factor to normalize the condition.
Reduce alcohol consumption and smoking - It is highly imperative to either stop or greatly reduces alcohol consumption and smoking. Continuing the habit can cause permanent damage to the liver leading to liver cirrhosis or liver failure.
Management of blood sugar levels - Regular monitoring of the blood sugar levels should be done. This is because the patients tend to have high blood sugar levels due to insulin resistance. Avoid taking artificial sweeteners, preservative drinks or processed foods.
Lowering the cholesterol levels - The patients must consult the doctor and get themselves treated if they have hyperlipidemia that is high cholesterol levels. High levels of cholesterol make fatty liver even worse.
Avoiding medications that might cause fatty liver
Liver transplant - In the worst situations where a large part of the liver has been damaged permanently, the patient is advised to have a liver transplant. Liver transplant is available in some of the best hepatology hospitals in India at affordable costs.