While excessive drinking can often lead to fatty deposits in the liver over time (and eventually to liver disease), there are other reasons a patient may end up with a fatty liver. Even if you don’t drink or are a moderate drinker, you can still be affected by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
While NAFLD generally isn’t a major concern on its own, left unchecked it can lead to other more serious health problems in some cases, and there are some forms of fatty liver disease that can cause major complications. Let’s look closer at six facts about this condition…
1. There May Be No Symptoms
As we hinted at earlier, often you may not know you have a NAFLD until it develops into something more serious. MedicineNet.com explains that early signs of the disease will show up in routine blood tests, or from ultrasonography when checking for other problems such as gallstones.
When the disease progresses, which is referred to as cirrhosis, the symptoms can be a lot more serious: excessive bleeding due to the liver’s inability to produce blood-clotting proteins; jaundice (yellowing of the skin) from the liver’s inability to filter out bilirubin from the bloodstream; and fluid accumulation due to “portal hypertension” that causes fluid leakage from blood vessels, adds the source.
2. There’s a Potentially Fatal Version
The Mayo Clinic explains that NAFLD is actually an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions that don’t have alcohol as a trigger. One form of the disease that might cause more alarm to patients and doctors is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which is characterized by liver inflammation that can lead to scarring and permanent damage, notes the source.
This form of the disease, ironically, is similar to what might occur to a heavy drinker’s liver, explains the clinic. At its worst, this condition can lead to liver failure, which can cause death.
3. Metabolic Syndrome Might Be a Link
A post on ScienceDirect.com explains there is growing evidence of a connection between NAFLD and metabolic syndrome, the latter which is a “disease composed of different risk factors such as obesity, type 2 diabetes or dyslipidemia”. NAFLD is being recognized as the “liver manifestation” of the syndrome, it adds.
The prevalence of metabolic syndrome is rising as global obesity levels rise, adds the source. A key characteristic linking the liver disease and metabolic syndrome is insulin resistance, which can lead to high blood sugar and is associated with accumulation of fat in areas such as the liver. The resulting inflammation can further aggravate the insulin resistance, creating a “vicious cycle,” explains the source.
4. Genetics Likely Play a Role
The University of California, San Diego explains that NAFLD is “shown to run in families,” and that if you have a child diagnosed with the condition, you should be tested as well during routine medical exams even without symptoms.
The article quotes an expert that states, “As we suspected, NAFLD is not simply about weight, but rather is highly familial and likely genetic”. The source cites a study involving 44-children with or without NAFLD and 152-family members. ” “Whether or not the child had NAFLD was a major determinant of the amount of liver fat present in the other family members,” the study determined. It found that 59-percent of siblings and 78-percent of parents related to children with NAFLD also had the disease.
5. It’s Becoming Increasingly Common
The Mayo Clinic explains that the prevalence of NAFLD is increasing around the world, particular in Western nations like the U.S. In fact, here at home it is the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting up to 100-million people, according to the source.
It strikes people in their 40’s and 50’s most commonly, especially those who are at higher risk of heart disease due to obesity or Type 2 diabetes, it adds. However, it can occur in people of all age groups, notes the clinic.
6. Medical Treatments are Lacking
The American Liver Foundation notes there are currently no medically approved treatments in the U.S. for NAFLD. It instead says lifestyle changes are in order. “Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly may help prevent liver damage from starting or reverse it in the early stages,” it notes.
The source also reminds you to visit a liver specialist regularly to monitor progression, and to lower your intake of cholesterol and saturated fats that can raise levels of triglycerides (which store fat). Oh, and it should go without saying – but try to avoid alcohol too, even though it’s not the root cause of your problem.