Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a broader terminology designed to include many conditions of the liver, that are caused by little or even zero alcohol consumption. As the name suggests, the primary characteristic of this condition is an accumulation of excess fat in the cells of the liver. It is one of the most common types of chronic liver diseases in the US.(1)
Is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease A Serious Condition?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may lead to some serious complications, an important one out of which is cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis is seen as a response to any trauma to the liver. For example, inflammation in NASH. When the liver tries to stop the inflammation, areas of scarring are produced, which is known as fibrosis. As the inflammation continues, fibrosis affects more and more part of the liver tissue.
If this process is not stopped or arrested in between, the cirrhosis of the liver can lead to various serious problems, which may include-
- Ascites or accumulation of fluid in the abdomen
- Oesophageal varices which mean there is a swelling of the veins in the esophagus. These veins may burst and bleed
- Hepatic encephalopathy, which means you may suffer from confusion, slurred speech, drowsiness, etc
- Liver cancer
- End-stage liver failure, in which the liver ceases completely to function
- Quite a few people having Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease progress to cirrhosis of the liver
Can Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Be Reversed?
In some cases of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, the damage ceases or even gets reversed, in some cases, however, it is very difficult to reverse eth condition, even though the progress is halted.(2)
Generally, there are no signs and symptoms seen in Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. When they are present, they may comprise of-
- Extreme tiredness or fatigue
- Pain in the upper abdomen
- Discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen
In the case of NASH or cirrhosis, the signs and symptoms may include-
- Fluid collection in abdomen or ascites
- Enlarged blood vessels below the skin
- Splenomegaly or enlarged spleen
- Redness in palms
- Jaundice or yellowing of skin and eyes
Causes Of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Why only some people get fat accumulation in the liver and why some others do not, has not been known yet. Also, why only some fatty livers lead to cirrhosis and why others do not is also unclear.(1)
However, NASH and Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease both are associated with the following factors-
- Being obese or overweight
- Insulin resistance
- Hyperglycaemia or high blood sugar, which may indicate diabetes type 2 or prediabetes
- If there are high values of fats present in the blood, especially triglycerides
These health problems together may lead to fatty deposits in liver cells. This extra fat may act as a toxin to the liver and may cause inflammation and NASH. This leads to a scar tissue build up in the liver
Risk Factors For Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Many health conditions can put you at an increased risk of getting Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. These may include-
- Increased cholesterol levels
- Increased triglycerides levels
- Metabolic syndrome
- Overweight or Obesity– especially so when the fat is centered in the abdomen region
- PCOS or polycystic ovarian syndrome
- Breathing problems while sleeping
- Diabetes type 2
- Hypothyroidism or an underactive thyroid gland
- Hypopituitarism or an underactive pituitary gland
Some people are more likely to get NASH, including-
- Aged people
- People having diabetes type 2
- People having fat centered in the abdomen
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH are very difficult to diagnose unless further tests are performed (1)
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease may turn out to be a serious condition and can lead to serious complications if not treated promptly and efficiently. In some instances, the progress of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be stopped and the condition can be reversed, while in other cases, even though the progress may be stopped, the condition cannot be reversed.
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- Lifestyle Changes For Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- What Is The Prognosis For Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?