Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver is the abnormal build-up of fat inside liver cells. It is commonly associated with alcoholism, drug and toxin ingestion, metabolic disorders and conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance and high blood triglyceride levels.
The cause of fatty liver is not fully understood, but often develops in association with other conditions including obesity, diabetes mellitus, tuberculosis and malnutrition. Individuals who have high blood triglycerides or consume high levels of alcohol are also at a greater risk for developing fatty liver. Fatty liver may also develop as a complication of pregnancy or a side effect of certain medications such as prednisone, due to an excess of vitamin A, or following intestinal bypass surgery for obesity.
Types of Fatty Liver
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a group of conditions in which there is an accumulation of fat in the liver of an individual that drinks little or no alcohol.
Steatohepatitis is inflammation of the liver that is related to fat accumulation. Individuals that are obese are often at an increased risk for developing steatohepatitis. Steatohepatitis is also associated with rapid weight loss, estrogen levels in women, and patients with diabetes that is not controlled properly. Steatohepatitis is also known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.
Heavy alcohol use can lead to fatty liver and inflammation. This condition is known as alcoholic hepatitis.
Both alcoholic hepatitis and steatohepatitis can lead to severe liver damage and cirrhosis.
Signs and Diagnosis of Fatty Liver
Many patients that develop fatty liver do not develop any noticeable symptoms. There are certain signs that your physician may detect during a general physical examination, or in the course of evaluation for another form of illness that may point to fatty liver. A build-up of fat in the liver may be detected during an ultrasound examination, or your physician may notice that your liver is slightly enlarged during a normal physical exam. A rise in certain liver enzymes in the blood may also suggest fatty liver.
To confirm the diagnosis of fatty liver, your gastroenterologist may recommend a liver biopsy during which he will obtain a small tissue sample from your liver to evaluate further under a microscope. The biopsy is obtained with the use of a thin needle that is inserted through the right lower chest.
Treatment of Fatty Liver
If you are diagnosed with fatty liver, then your physician will provide you with detailed information about the treatment options that are most beneficial for you, including the benefits, risks and complications of treatment for fatty liver.
In many situations, treatment of fatty liver involves control over the underlying cause of the condition. This may include quitting drinking, reducing high blood triglycerides, and proper management of diabetes. For many individuals, weight loss is a crucial component of the treatment for fatty liver.