We are ALL stressed…
Between Covid, quarantining, new variants, hurricanes, floods, and life in general, we are all trying to make it through the day. We try to prioritize the important things and the less important things often fall by the wayside.
The question is how are YOU handling that stress…
Do you binge-watch Netflix? Eat junk food? Drink more alcohol than you should? Forget to exercise?
These stress-relieving methods could be affecting your health negatively. One of the negative effects of eating too much junk food, leading a sedentary lifestyle, and/or drinking too much alcohol can be liver disease. Specifically, fatty liver disease.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition of extra fat buildup in the liver, is on the rise — it now affects roughly 20% to 40% of the US population. It usually doesn’t cause any symptoms and is often first detected by accident when an imaging study (such as an abdominal ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI) is requested for another reason. A fatty liver may also be identified on an imaging test as a part of investigating abnormal liver blood tests. NAFLD is also linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
Types of fatty liver disease
Fatty liver disease is divided into two types. If you just have fat but no damage to your liver, the disease is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If you have fat in your liver plus signs of inflammation and liver cell damage, the disease is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). About 10% to 35% of Americans have NAFLD and only about 2% to 5% have NASH.
Fatty liver disease is sometimes referred to as a silent liver disease. This is because it can happen without causing any symptoms. Most people with NAFLD live with fat in their liver without developing liver damage. A few people who have fat in their liver develop NASH.
If you have NASH, symptoms could take years to develop. If liver damage from NASH leads to permanent scarring and hardening of your liver, this is called cirrhosis.
Symptoms of NASH may include:
- Severe tiredness
- Weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Spiderlike blood vessels on the skin
- Long-lasting itching
Who is at risk?
The exact cause of fatty liver is unknown, but obesity is a contributing factor. Obesity has nearly doubled in the US within the last decade and health care providers are steadily seeing a rise in fatty liver disease. Although children and young adults can get fatty liver disease, it is most common in middle-aged people.
Risk factors include:
- Being overweight
- Having high blood fat levels, either triglycerides or LDL (“bad”) cholesterol
- Having diabetes or prediabetes
- Having high blood pressure
- Excessive alcohol intake
Fatty liver disease is often diagnosed with routine blood tests to check your liver. Imaging studies of your liver may show fat deposits. Some imaging tests, including ultrasound and MRI scans can help diagnose the disease and spot scar tissue in the liver. But the only way to be certain that fatty liver disease is the only cause of liver damage is with a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy involves getting a tissue sample of your liver with a needle. The needle removes a small piece of liver tissue that can be looked at under a microscope.
Living with Fatty Liver Disease
If you have been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, it is important to keep your liver as healthy as possible and avoid anything that can damage your liver. Here are some important things you should do:
- Limit your alcohol consumption.
- Verify with your physician that your medications and supplements are safe for your liver.
- Control other health conditions that might also affect your liver.
- Get regular screening tests for liver cancer if you already have cirrhosis.
If you have NAFLD without any other medical problems, you don’t need any special treatment. But making some lifestyle changes can control or reverse the fat buildup in your liver. These may include:
- Losing weight
- Lowering your cholesterol and triglycerides
- Controlling your diabetes
- Avoiding alcohol
- See a liver specialist
If you have been told, or think you might have Fatty Liver Disease, the doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology are here to help! Our board-certified Gastroenterologists/Hepatologists (specialists in the field of Liver Disease) have years of training and experience to diagnose and help manage your condition. Give us a call today at 908-483-4000.
Harvard Health Publishing. Fatty Liver Disease: What it is and what to do about it. April, 2020.
John Hopkins Health. Fatty Liver Disease. 2021