Fatty liver disease encompasses many various conditions but all with a common manifestation – fat accumulation in liver cells. The disease may be caused by several factors including diabetes, obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, and many other unhealthy lifestyle practices. The existence of fats in the liver is not uncommon. However, if the condition worsens, this can lead to more serious health problems like liver failure, cirrhosis, and in worst cases, liver cancer.
The more common and milder version of the disease is called simple fatty liver or hepatic steatosis. The more serious but less common condition is called steatohepatitis which has two types – alcoholic steatohepatitis that is caused by too much alcohol intake, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Causes of the Disease
Alcoholism is one of two major causes of fatty liver disease. Diseases that are related to fat metabolism such as hypertension, diabetes and dyslipidemia are the other main cause of this disease that afflicts the liver. There are also known cases that manifested after abdominal surgeries. Malnutrition, severe loss of weight, bacteria overgrowth, and intravenous feeding can, in some cases result to the liver disease. Irregular eating habits that lead to digestion problems is also a possible cause.
Fatty liver disease can also be caused by drugs such as immune suppressing medications used for rheumatoid arthritis, anti-retroviral medications, and corticosteroids. HIV, hepatitis C, and inflammatory bowel disease can also result to fat accumulation in the liver. People with hypothyroidism, high cholesterol levels, and polycystic ovaries can also develop the liver disease. In the most unfortunate cases, a pregnant woman who contracts the disease may pass it on to her unborn child.
Fatty liver disease is usually not symptomatic. Patients, however, may in some cases experience nausea, fever, dry mouth, loss of appetite, general weakness of the body, jaundice, abdominal pains, swollen lower extremities, dark urine, loss of memory, mental confusion, and bruising easily. Because most cases do not manifest any symptoms, diagnosis of the disease is often accidental. It is usually detected when a patient undergoes routine medical checkups and blood tests. Further tests like CT scan, MRI, ultrasound, biopsy, and additional blood tests can confirm the existence of the disease.
To treat fatty liver disease basically entails the treatment of the underlying cause. In less severe cases the condition can drastically be improved by:
- Total elimination of alcohol consumption (for alcoholic types of fatty liver)
- Significant weight loss for obese people
- Proper management and control of fatty liver-causing diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and dislipidemia
The above treatments will only be effective if the liver disease is detected during the initial stages. For severe cases, there is no specific treatment. Health experts recommend a shift to a healthier lifestyle that includes diet modification, weight loss, avoidance of alcohol, and the proper management of existing health conditions. Medications may be prescribed for the proper control of the disease and to keep it from worsening.
The increase in the number of obese people and diabetics today also increases the risk of more people getting afflicted with fatty liver disease. As there is yet no known treatment for the total elimination of the disease, it is best to avoid contacting it through proper diet and the maintenance of healthy lifestyle.
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