Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) represents a range of liver conditions developing in people who drink little or no alcohol. The characteristic feature of NAFLD is the excess accumulation of fats in the liver cells. It is a common liver problem that is increasing in western countries like the United States. It is of two types, simple fatty liver and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is the most aggressive type of NAFLD that may progress into cirrhosis (advanced scarring) and liver failure.
What Happens To Untreated Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a range of conditions affecting the liver developing due to excess build-up of fat within the liver cells. It is more common in people who are obese or overweight. It does not serious liver damage in most cases. It affects people who drink little or no alcohol. It develops as a result of an unhealthy lifestyle. (1)
The risk factors of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include-
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
- Large waist size
- High cholesterol levels (2)
- Metabolic syndrome
- Old age
- Underactive thyroid
- Sleep apnea
- Polycystic ovary syndrome (3)
There are two types of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Simple Fatty Liver- it is also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL). In this type of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, fat cells accumulate in the liver cells without or little inflammation or liver cell damage. It is the most common type of NAFLD. It does not progress to liver damage and other complications. (1)
Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)- It is the type of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that causes inflammation in the liver and liver cell damage along with the accumulation of fat cells in the liver. It induces serious liver injury if not treated in time. It. It is a progressive type of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in which it eventually causes liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver cancer. (4)
When NASH is left untreated, it progresses to late-stage scarring in the liver. It happens in 5-12 % of people with NASH. It develops in response to liver injury caused by inflammatory changes in the liver cells. The liver tries to cease inflammation by scarring its tissues. These changes are irreversible with persistent inflammation and no treatment, the fibrosis spread to other healthy tissues of the liver. (3)
The further complications of cirrhosis include-
- Accumulation of fluid in the abdomen (ascites)
- Swollen veins in your esophagus that may rupture and bleed
- Cancer of liver
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech
- Halting of the functioning of the liver (3)
This leads to progressive and irreversible damage to the liver. It would lead to persistent scarring and progress to liver failure. It may result in fatal consequences.
Cardiovascular disease is a common cause of death in patients of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (1)
When To Go To The Doctor For Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
The signs and symptoms of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease do not appear in most of the cases. If it appears, its symptoms include pain and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen with fatigue. If its type NASH advances to scarring, then its signs and symptoms involve-
- Swelling in the abdomen (ascites)
- Enlargement of the spleen
- Enlargement of blood vessels under the skin
- Yellowish discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Red palms (3)
When you persistently observe these signs and symptoms, then it may be a point of concern and you should consult your doctor. (3)
Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis is the most aggressive type of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If it is left untreated, it causes progressive damage to liver cells leading to scarring of the liver and liver failure. If you observe symptoms like the swollen abdomen, enlarged spleen, jaundice, and red palms, then you should approach your doctor to prevent further complications.
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