The liver is responsible for breaking down proteins, fat and carbohydrates in food in exchange for energy. It controls and maintains our metabolism. It produces hormones and other essential substances. It assists in ridding the body of toxic wastes by acting as a detoxifying agent. These responsibilities are the reason why the liver is an important organ in the human body. Something that will threaten the liver from functioning properly is fatty liver disease. Without treatment it can cause irreversible damage thanks to complications such as liver cancer and cirrhosis.
Fatty Liver Definition and Factors
To understand the symptoms of fatty liver it is imperative that we understand more about it. Fatty liver, or steatosis, is the buildup of fat in the liver cells without inflammation. The weight of the liver contains around 5-10% fat. This condition comes in two types: alcoholic and non-alcoholic. One group consumed alcohol and the other did not. A person is grouped in this category depending on what caused steatosis or steatohepatitis. Steatohepatitis is a more serious condition that causes inflammation and damaged lever cells.
Because this disease is mainly caused by alcohol the alcoholics are at risk the most. Major risk factors for non-alcoholics are diabetic, obese people and drugs/medication. Minor risk factors are people whose body canít resist insulin, bodies with high triglyceride blood levels and people who already have serious health conditions. Additional factors that can contribute to alcoholic types are hepatitis C and iron overload. For non-alcoholic types its heredity.
Fatty Liver Symptoms and Diagnosis
Initial stages of the disease go undetected. The liver will enlarge without discomfort. When it gets worse the symptoms start to reveal itself. They are nausea, appetite loss, weight loss, vomiting, dry mouth, fever, rib cage pain and swollen legs/feet. There may be skin discoloration, blood vessels that shape like stars or look spidery, yellow skin, white eyes, gum bleeds and nose bleeds. More severe symptoms are feeling weak or dizzy, fainting and memory lapses/forgetfulness. As soon as any of these symptoms are discovered go to the doctor immediately.
The doctor will check for this by doing blood tests (for inflammation in the liver), MRIs/CAT scans (to get a picture of the swollen liver), and liver biopsy (small sample of liver tissue is taken from the skin and analyzed under a microscope). Once the tests come back it is best to ask questions. Understand what the tests reveal and ask if this is related to another medical problem. Also ask the doctor about treatment options.
Fatty Liver Treatment
Most steatosis treatments start with the cause. For example if the cause is alcohol stop consuming alcohol completely; if the cause is obesity a person is forced to lose weight. Diabetic patients will have to control the sugar in the blood and so on. If there is an addiction to alcohol, food, sugar or anything related to this disease the person must fight it. For example alcoholics need to go to a rehab center while an obese person must get on a diet and exercise. All a person has to do is practice temperance. The only way it isnít is if the case is extremely severe. The only option at this point is surgery. The treatment of fatty liver is all about changing the lifestyle to a healthy and positive one.
As the largest internal organ inside of the human body, the liver is responsible for more than its fair share of functions. Seated on the right side of the the upper abdomen below the ribcage, the liver is responsible for maintaining the overall balance of nutrients while discarding any unnecessary toxins from the body. A healthy liver will be able to perform each function effortlessly. A fatty liver, on the other hand, will not only have difficulty performing its delegated duties, but also cause a series of health issues in the body. Better known as fatty liver disease, this disorder is currently the most common form of liver disease in the U.S. and Europe. With a variety of causes and symptoms, this disorder has the ability to touch a multitude of peopleís lives.
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
A liver that functions normally is able to filter blood, break down waste, and produce bile for the digestive system; fatty liver disease is something that will hinder these functions. If the liver has to process too much fat, an accumulation of those cells will persist in the liver. As fat cells continue to accumulate, the liver will no longer be able to aid in the removal of toxins from the body. Although it is not a deadly disorder, a liver in a prolonged fatty state will weigh heavily on the overall health of the individual.
What Are The Symptoms?
While many individuals experience no fatty liver symptoms, they are experienced by a few people with the disorder.
One of the common symptoms experienced is that of fatty liver pain. As a fatty liver becomes inflamed, its lining will begin to stretch. This stretching will cause a dull pain just below the ribcage.
Another common symptom is that of fatigue. Although the reasoning behind it is not fully understood, it is believed that the accumulation of fat cells alters the chemical composition of the brain and causes a person to have less energy.
Digestive distress may also occur when one has fatty liver disease. Because a fatty liver inhibits the production of bile, a lack of it in the digestive system may affect the way it functions. Symptoms such as nausea, bloody stool, vomiting, dark urine, loss of appetite and sudden weight loss may all indicate the presence of a fatty liver.
In more severe cases, jaundice may be experienced. However, this yellowing of the skin or eyes may actually indicate that the liver is beginning to fail.
When no physical symptoms occur, fatty liver disease can still be detected by a doctor. In blood tests, for example, doctors will be able to notice if the liver chemistry is off. In addition to blood tests, doctors are also able to recognize a fatty liver with the help of ultrasounds, CT scans and MRIs.
What Causes It To Occur?
With so many individuals ailed by this disorder, one would have to wonder how it comes about.
A primary subset of all fatty liver-diseased individuals are abusers of drugs and alcohol. While these substances interfere with most processes in the body, they truly wreak havoc on the liver. Alcohol, in particular, contains a high amount of calories from fat. When this substance is abused, the excess fat is stored in various parts of the body; especially in the liver.
As fatty liver disease is caused by an excess of fat stored by the liver, it stands to reason that it can be caused by a poor diet. Diets that are high in fat and low in other nutrients will undoubtedly contribute to storage of fat in the liver.
Who Is Prone To Getting It?
There are two forms of fatty liver disease: alcoholic and nonalcoholic. Unfortunately, this indicates that this disorder can be acquired by a multitude of people for a variety of reasons.
Substance abusers are most likely to become afflicted by the disorder. Drugs do not contain fat; however, they do increase the amount of toxins that the liver has to filter. By overrunning the liver with toxins, substance abusers risk damaging the liverís ability to process fat.
Alcoholics are ultimately pumping their livers full of fat. With a fat content of 7 calories per gram, alcohol presents a relatively high amount of fat for the body. As stated previously, alcohol abuse will provide unnecessary amounts of alcohol and it will accumulate in the liver.
Individuals with poor diets
Diet that are rich in fatty, sugary foods will provide excess nutrients for the body. Unfortunately, many of these same nutrients will have to be stored as fat until they are needed. Individuals who maintain these diets will alter the liverís metabolism for the worse; resulting in an increase in store fat cells.
Diabetics who do not manage their diets or blood sugars are also at risk of developing fatty liver disease.
Genetically predisposed individuals
While this disorder does not appear on its own, it can be influenced by genetic factors.
What Are The Treatment Options?
Fortunately for those with the condition, treatment of fatty liver is completely possible. With a few lifestyle adjustments, fatty liver treatment can be implemented successfully and the liver will return to normal.
Eliminate alcohol consumption
Alcohol-abusers who have fatty liver disease will reverse the effects of the disorder by abstaining from alcohol use.
Diet and exercise
Those who were afflicted by the disorder through metabolic issues will benefit from eating a healthy diet and getting regular exercise.
The serious health consequences that can occur as a result of prolonged over-consumption of alcohol, known as alcoholic liver disease, have many warning signs as the disease progresses. It is important to understand, for anyone experiencing symptoms, there is always an opportunity to reverse the damage by simply ceasing alcohol consumption as the liver possesses a remarkable ability for self-repair. However, once the symptoms have reached an advanced stage that involves alcoholic cirrhosis, the risk exists that it will be too late to reverse the destructive effects, and the only options to follow are to monitor and alter behaviors or to take the extreme alternative of a liver transplant to repair the damage.
The Nature of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Alcohol abuse is the behavior that promotes the onset of liver disease due to the consumption of alcohol. It goes by other names such as alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis or Laennecís cirrhosis, and typically occurs as a result of many years of drinking to excess. The nature of alcohol is such that the more one drinks, the more one has a tendency to drink more, and the longer more alcohol is consumed, the greater the probability that liver disease will develop.
Excessive or heavy drinking does not always affect all people similarly. There are genetic factors and individual susceptibility as well as the particular toxicity of the ethanol to the liver that play a role in how severely one is affected. There is empirical evidence that women are more susceptible to the disease than are men, and it does not necessarily correlate that one must get drunk for the disease to develop although acute alcoholic hepatitis is a risk associated with binge drinking. Malnutrition can contribute to alcoholic liver disease given the empty calories contained in alcohol. Drinking can lead to a reduced appetite, and what fewer nutrients are able to reach the intestines may be poorly absorbed, a condition known as malabsorption. Above all, the severity of the condition can be life-threatening.
Symptoms of Alcoholic Liver Disease
Variable symptoms can appear with differing intensity and may be more prevalent after periods of heavy drinking. As the affect of alcohol on the liver causes inflammation, known as alcoholic hepatitis, this can contribute to developing a fatty liver and eventually result in scarring of the liver tissue, called alcoholic cirrhosis. Once a liver has become cirrhotic, it has reached the end stage or final phase of the disease. Unfortunately, years may elapse before the symptoms become pronounced or noticeable, but that does not mean that the damage has not been done.
Any of the following symptoms should be of concern when alcohol is being consumed:
- Dry mouth or excessive thirst
- Loss of appetite
- Tenderness or pain in the abdomen
- Weight gain or fluid collecting in the abdomen, also called ascites
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes, called jaundice
- Nausea or vomitting
- Fatigue or agitation
- Mental confusion known as encephalopathy, including impaired judgment and inability to concentrate
- Changes in mood
- Impaired memory
- Rapid heart rate or dizziness upon standing
- Paleness, redness, or abnormally light or dark skin
- Attention deficit
- Breast development in males
- Bloody or tarry stools
Tests and Treatment
There are tests that can be done to rule out other diseases, such as an abdominal CT scan or an ultrasound of the abdomen if there is concern regarding any of the symptoms mentioned here. Getting a complete blood count (CBC) and a liver function test (ALP) to check for elevated liver enzymes could prompt the need to get a liver biopsy.
More important than any other action that can be taken is to cease alcohol intake. When alcoholic cirrhosis develops, it could come down to managing the complications until a liver transplant can be performed. While it is not always easy to quit drinking, there are plenty of programs that can help a person rehabilitate while receiving counseling. At the same time, patients in rehab will be able to get the needed vitamins, B complex and folic acid supplements to help reverse malnutrition.
Support groups are also of great benefit to help ease the stress of the illness from alcoholic liver disease as members share common experiences. Group support maintains that a problem shared is a problem halved. Breaking the addiction to alcohol is difficult to try to accomplish alone, which is why it is crucial to connect with alcoholism support groups and liver disease support groups.
Certainly, the continued use of alcohol is the action that directly threatens the lifespan. A good place to begin would be to discuss alcohol intake with the family doctor to better understand what steps to take to restore better health. If alcoholic cirrhosis has not yet occurred, there is every chance that the liver can heal if no more alcohol is ingested, allowing the cells a good chance for revival.