Fatty liver disease (also known as steatosis), is a condition in which excess fat builds up in the liver. In healthy individuals, roughly 5% of the liver is composed of fat. In individuals with fatty liver disease, 10% or more of the liver’s weight is composed of fats.
Fortunately, fatty liver disease can easily be reversed. The condition generally does not result in any serious symptoms, and often resolves itself on its own.
What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease is extremely common, particularly amongst those in developed nations. It is estimated that 20-25% of Americans have excessively fatty livers. Most of these individuals are over 50 years of age. A large number of these individuals suffer from fatty liver due to obesity or excessive alcohol consumption. Though fatty liver itself rarely causes serious damage or inflammation, it is important to identify fatty liver and treat it as soon as possible. By treating the condition, individuals will be less likely to suffer from more serious liver problems later in life.
Fatty liver occurs as a result of excess fat production in the body. In individuals with fatty liver disease, fat is being produced too quickly for the body to metabolize it. This excess fat is the stored in the cells of the liver. If this occurs too frequently, the condition will ultimately result in fatty liver disease.
- Some of the main causes of fatty liver disease include:
- excessive alcohol consumption/alcoholism
- obesity or high weight
- metabolic syndrome
- type 2 diabetes/insulin resistance
- high cholesterol
- drugs, such as aspirin and steroids
- viral conditions, such as hepatitis
Note that a high-fat diet does not cause fatty liver disease. A high overall body weight, however, may lead to the condition.
Fatty liver disease is not necessarily a symptomatic condition. Minor symptoms, such as chest pain, fatigue, and liver swelling may occur in some patients. If inflammation occurs, patients may feel particularly unwell. These symptoms can all be alleviated by reversing the condition.
Types of Fatty Liver Disease
There are a number of types of fatty liver disease, all of which are correlated with the condition’s cause.
- The main types of fatty liver are:
- Alcoholic Fatty Liver
- Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver
- Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
- Fatty Liver of Pregnancy
Alcoholic Fatty Liver
Alcoholic fatty liver is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. This form of fatty liver disease can easily be reversed if the patient abstains from alcohol for six weeks or more. The condition, however, is a precursor to more serious liver diseases. If individuals continue to drink excessively, they may develop cirrhosis or other serious liver conditions.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver is often the result of obesity, diabetes, or other health conditions. It is not correlated with alcohol use. Lifestyle changes such as improved diet and exercise are generally sufficient for reversing the condition.
Like Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver, this condition is unrelated to alcohol consumption. In this condition, however, fat buildup causes a swollen liver. In Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, symptoms tend to be more prevalent. Nausea, vomiting, lack of appetite, stomach pains, weight loss, and jaundice may occur. This condition is serious, and should be treated as soon as possible. Neglecting to treat Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis may result in irreversible scarring of the liver or even liver failure.
Fatty Liver of Pregnancy
Fatty Liver of Pregnancy is a relatively rare condition that occurs during the third trimester of pregnancy. Women with this condition may suffer from nausea, vomiting, stomach pain, fatigue, and jaundice. Fortunately, this condition tends to resolve itself following delivery.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Fatty liver disease may be diagnosed in a number of ways. Physical examinations, ultrasounds, blood tests, and liver biopsies are all common ways of detecting the condition.
Treatment of fatty liver disease is generally fairly straight-forward. Alcoholic versions of the disease can be treated by abstaining from all alcoholic beverages, either for a number of weeks or permanently. Non-alcoholic fatty liver may be treated through weight loss, improved diabetes treatment, cholesterol control, or other methods, depending on the causes of the condition.
The good news for fatty liver sufferers is that the condition is generally easy to treat. Improving your lifestyle choices can ultimately make fatty liver a thing of the past.