Definition of Fatty Liver
Fatty liver is a condition in which triglycerides (type of fats in body) accumulate in the liver. Fats are present in the normal liver as well, but when these fats exceed 5 to 10% of the normal liver weight, we call it fatty liver. Usually there is no symptom, until the liver is inflamed or damaged by the abnormal accumulation of fats.
Liver is an important organ of the body. Its main function is to filter whatever we take orally. It also keeps a check on the circulating blood. When unnecessary fat is present in hepatocytes (liver cells), liver function becomes impaired. It happens when liver stops processing fat. Then, the triglycerides, in the form of small vesicles, are accumulated in the cell. These vesicles push the nucleus and other components of the cell towards periphery. When we see such liver cells under microscope, they give signet shape appearance. This retention of fat is often termed as steatosis.
Cause of Fatty Liver
The main underlying cause of the fatty liver is alcohol consumption. That is why the fatty liver due to excessive alcohol intake is called as alcoholic liver disease (ALD).
Fatty liver due to other causes are termed as non alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD). Some of the causes are as follows:
- Metabolic disorders: Diabetes type 2, glycogen storage diseases, high levels of triglycerides (fats) in the blood.
- Nutritional: Malnutrition, obesity
- Drugs and toxins: Phosphorus and mushroom poisoning, aspirin, steroids, expired tetracycline (an antibiotic), Potassium channel blockers, oral contraceptive tamoxifen, etc.
- Other: Inflammatory bowel disease, in pregnancy, hepatitis, etc.
Signs and Symptoms of Fatty Liver
- Loss of appetite
- Loss of weight
- Enlarged liver
- Pain in upper right side of abdomen
Risk Factors for Fatty Liver
- High cholesterol level
- High triglycerides in the blood
- Excessive alcohol consumption
- Diabetes type 2
- Gastric bypass surgery
- Sleep disturbances
- Underactivity of thyroid gland
- Underactivity of pituitary gland
Diagnosis of Fatty Liver
- Physical examination: On physical examination, doctor may find enlarged liver with abdominal pain on upper right side.
- Blood tests: Levels of Alanine Transaminase (ALT), an enzyme depicting liver function, can be checked to rule out fatty liver disease.
- Imaging tests: Ultrasonography, computerized tomography (CT scan) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are the imaging techniques which are helpful in the diagnosis of fatty liver disease.
- Liver tissue testing: A procedure known as liver biopsy is done if the doctor suspects scarring and severe inflammation of the liver. It is done by inserting a needle into the liver and liver cells are taken for lab examination.
Prevention from Fatty Liver
Healthy lifestyle, limited use of alcohol and reduction of weight in obese people are important factors which can prove helpful in preventing fatty liver disease.
Treatment of Fatty Liver
The underlying disease should be cured first to treat the fatty liver. So, blood sugar level and blood cholesterol level should be maintained in normal range. Vaccination against hepatitis A and B should be received to avoid further damage.