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What is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

Dr. Bhavani A

One can contract liver disorders, even if one drinks in moderation or doesn’t drink at all.

Alcohol and a damaged liver are synonymous with each other, and the very mention of a serious liver disorder takes your mind to everything related to this particular form of substance abuse. Not many know that one can contract liver disorders, even if one drinks in moderation or doesn’t at all. This is called ‘non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’ and is generally characterized by excess fat stored in liver cells. 

In serious cases, you could suffer from Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis, a more serious form of the disease that causes liver inflammation, leading to cirrhosis and ultimately liver failure. 

While non-alcoholic fatty disease can occur at any age, it is most common in people who are in their 40s or 50s. Lifestyle diseases, including heart-related disorders, diabetes, and obesity, are commonly found among people in this age group. Metabolic syndrome including abnormalities like excess abdominal fat, low ability to use the hormone insulin, high levels of triglycerides in the blood and high blood pressure. 

Symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease 

Generally, this condition shows no signs or symptoms. However, when observed, the most common abnormalities include an enlarged liver, fatigue as well as pain in the upper right abdomen. If it progresses to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and cirrhosis (advanced scarring), the symptoms are abdominal swelling (ascites), enlarged blood vessels just under the surface of the skin, enlarged spleen, large breasts in men, reddening of the palms, and yellowing of the eyes and skin. 

Causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease 

It isn’t exactly known why certain people tend to accumulate fat in the liver while some don’t, and why certain fatty livers lead to cirrhosis. While obesity is a definite risk factor, some of the other probable risks include insulin resistance wherein muscles do not take up sugar in response to insulin and the excess blood sugars are stored as fatty acids by the liver, high blood sugar, and high fat levels. When all these factors come together, a fatty liver is likely to be the result. In fact, it is so serious in certain cases that this excess fat becomes toxic to liver cells thereby causing inflammation and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis. This may eventually lead to fibrosis of the liver. 

Risk factors 

Here are a few reasons why you could be at a higher risk of contracting this disorder: 

  • Obesity 
  • High cholesterol 
  • High triglycerides levels in the blood 
  • Metabolic syndrome  
  • Type 2 diabetes 
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome 
  • Sleep apnea 
  • Less active thyroid (hypothyroidism) and pituitary gland (hypopituitarism) 
  • Hypertension
  • Drugs 
  • Over nutrition and starvation diets 

In fact, Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis is more common among older people, those who are suffering from diabetes, and people who have a high concentration of fat in the abdomen. Consult a doctor whenever you suffer from any of the symptoms like nausea, upper abdominal pain, weakness, and jaundice. There are chances that they may prescribe tests to check if you have this disorder. 

Complications 

Generally, the biggest complication of this condition is the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis to cirrhosis, which causes fibrosis in the liver. With further inflammation, fibrosis harms even more of the liver tissue. 

Cirrhosis can further cause fluid accumulation in the abdomen and feet, vein swelling in the oesophagus which can cause fatal bleeding, confusion, foggy brain, speech problems, encephalopathy marked by speech disturbances, problems with cognition and memory, in severe cases coma as well as liver cancer. 

Conclusion 

All in all, it is advised to eat a plant-based diet, watch your body weight and exercise regularly to keep liver disorders at bay. Patients with a history of excessive alcohol consumption or with a family history of liver disorders should consult a doctor and get screened, as fatty liver is reversible in early stages.

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