That’s an annoyingly long name. You all thought of fancy names for the rest of the diseases. Why not this one? Anyways, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions. As the name suggests, it is a build-up of excess fat in the liver. It usually affects people who drink lots of alcohol. Besides that, it is also common in people who are obese or over-weight. In this article, we will discuss the symptoms, causes, diagnosis, and treatment of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). But before that, let’s take a look at how it develops in different stages.
Stages of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:
Biologically speaking, it is normal if your liver contains a little fat. However, if this fat exceeds 5%-10% of the liver’s total weight, then it can get a little serious. This fat build-up can cause the liver tissue to start scarring, which ultimately decreases its functioning. If left untreated, it can lead to serious liver damage or failure. The four main stages of NAFLD include:
- Stage One – Steatosis: At this stage, fat begins to build up in your liver. However, this is purely harmless.
- Stage Two – Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): This is where it starts to get a little tricky. The build-up fat causes the liver to become inflamed. It is important to take notice at this point, otherwise, this can lead to stage 3.
- Stage Three – Fibrosis: If your liver remains inflamed for a longer time, the tissues and blood vessels begin to scar. At this point, your liver will show problems, but it will continue to work normally.
- Stage Four – Cirrhosis: This is the most severe stage. At this point, your liver is completely damaged and scarred. Furthermore, it shrinks down and becomes lumpy. At this stage, the damage is somewhat permanent. This can often lead to liver cancer or, even, liver failure. However, it usually takes years for your liver to reach this stage.
Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:
In the early stages, there are usually no visible symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). That is why you can never tell if you have this disease or not without a medical test. However, you will start noticing the symptoms in the later stages of NAFLD. The symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) include:
- Aching and dull pain in the upper right abdomen.
- Weakness, tiredness, and fatigue.
- Un-intentional weight loss.
In case of severe scarring or cirrhosis, advanced symptoms can develop. These include:
- Swelling of the belly, or ascites.
- Swelling in different parts of the body, such as legs, feet, ankles.
- Skin and Eyes start becoming yellow or jaundice.
- Internal bleeding.
- Enlarged blood vessels beneath the surface of the skin.
- Enlarged spleen.
- Liver inflammation.
As the liver starts getting worse, the symptoms can eventually lead to loss of healthy liver function. Now that we’ve talked about the symptoms, let’s head over to find out the causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
Causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:
There is little understanding of the exact causes of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). However, you are at a higher risk if you:
- Are obese or over-weight.
- Have pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes. This means you have high blood sugar or hyperglycemia.
- Have a high level of fats, such as triglycerides, in your blood.
- Have insulin resistance. This means your cells are not responding correctly to the insulin. As a result, your cells do not take up sugar properly.
- Have high cholesterol.
- Have high blood pressure.
- Are over the age of 50.
- Smoke regularly.
- Suffer from metabolic syndrome. This is a combination of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure.
- Drink alcohol regularly.
Among these, insulin resistance is the strongest risk factor. It can cause the accumulation of fat inside the liver. In this way, it causes liver inflammation and eventually leads to scarring. These risk factors do not guarantee that you will get NAFLD. At times, people can get NAFLD without the presence of any of these factors. Besides these, poor eating habits can often be a potential cause as well.
Diagnosis of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:
As mentioned earlier, the early stages show no apparent symptoms. However, there are different ways for the diagnosis of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). These include:
1. Blood Test
The diagnosis usually starts with a simple blood test. If high levels of liver enzymes are present, it means you have a liver disease. However, this could also suggest multiple other liver diseases as well. For this reason, the doctor needs to rule these other diseases out before the diagnosis of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
A normal ultrasound of your tummy can reveal whether a liver problem is present or not. The doctor may also ask for a CT scan or an MRI of your liver. Once NAFLD is confirmed, doctors need to determine the length of liver damage or scarring. For this reason, Transient elastography is recommended. Transient elastography is a form of ultrasound that can determine the stiffness of the liver. The greater the stiffness, the greater the damage.
In case the ultrasound is not able to diagnose the problem, your doctor may recommend a biopsy. A biopsy involves the laboratory testing of the tissue sample of your liver. For this purpose, a small sample of your liver tissues is taken with the help of a needle. This sample is sent to the labs for further testing.
Treatment of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Treatment of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) involves simple changes in your lifestyle. There is no specific medication available for this disease. However, your doctor may recommend a few to manage the condition. For example, specific medicines are available for high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Also, you can take supplements to control your diabetes and metabolic syndrome. To control your NAFLD, you can try the following preventive measures;
- If you are obese or over-weight, try losing some weight. This can decrease the level of fats in your liver and improve its condition.
- Start a healthy diet. Try to eat more vegetables, fruits, proteins, and carbohydrates. Also, cut back on sugar and fatty foods.
- Exercise is important. Staying physically active can reduce the fat in your body. Thus, it will improve your NAFLD.
- Quit smoking.
- Cut down your alcohol intake. Drinking can worsen your condition and damage your liver.
If this condition remains for a longer period, it eventually leads to liver failure. In that case, you will need to get a liver transplant.
That’s everything you need to know about Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). It usually takes years for NAFLD to reach liver failure. But don’t worry folks. Just make sure you live a healthy lifestyle and surely nothing will happen to your beloved liver. At the early stages, your NAFLD will not show any symptoms. However, that doesn’t mean it’s not there. That is why it is important to make healthy life choices at this point. This can help you reverse the damages to your liver. Technically speaking, there are no causes or treatment methods for NAFLD. Also, there is no quick medicine to cure NAFLD. Thus, living healthy is the only way to keep yourself and your liver happy and safe.