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By Boris M | 31 May, 2020 Published in Guides
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As the body’s largest internal organ, the liver has a lot of responsibility in fulfilling its 500 different roles to keep our bodies alive. The liver’s most important role is to break down the food and drink we consume, eliminate waste from our insides, and help fight infections and germs.

As amazing as the liver is, when there’s something wrong with it, we generally don’t know. Alcohol is one of the biggest culprits in causing damage to the liver. The term fatty liver disease is often thrown around in a medical sense, especially when talking about conditions that can develop in patients who consume a lot of alcohol. However, it is often unclear as to what exactly ‘fatty liver’ disease is.

In this article, we are going to take an in-depth look at the condition and explore what can be done to treat it should you find yourself struggling with it.

What Is Fatty Liver Disease?

Fatty liver disease is exactly what its name may suggest: an accumulation of fat within the liver. There are two categories of this condition with one being caused as a result of alcohol (alcoholic fatty liver disease) and one which is not related to alcohol consumption (non-alcoholic.) [1]

What Are The Types Of Liver Disease?

The liver is a vital organ but unfortunately, it is susceptible to disease, there are three main types of liver disease, these are as follows:

  • Fatty Liver Disease, which we have discovered is a build-up of fat in the liver
  • Alcoholic hepatitis is a condition that causes inflammation of the liver as a result of large amounts of alcohol being absorbed into the body
  • Cirrhosis, which is scarring on the liver. Due to the scarring on the organ, it is no longer able to function as it normally would [2]

How Does Alcohol Cause Fat to Build in the Liver?

If you find yourself drinking copious amounts of alcohol you may be concerned about the effect that this could have on your liver. It might be easier to understand the risks if you are aware of how fatty liver disease is caused by alcohol consumption.

The liver is designed to filter toxins from anything that you put into your body, this could be the food that you eat, or indeed any alcohol that you drink. [3] If the liver is forced to break down larger amounts of alcohol this can affect its function and in turn cause damage to the cells of the liver.

What Do I Do If I Think I Have Fatty Liver Disease?

As with any medical condition, if you suspect that you may have it, the most important thing to do is to see your doctor as soon as possible. They will be able to assess and diagnose any possible problems as well as refer you on for any further treatment.

There are certain symptoms to look out for to assess whether you may have the condition and various ways of treating it. [4] We will look at both of these things in a little more detail in the following sections.

What Are The Signs Of Fatty Liver Disease?

If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, there is a chance that you could have a fatty liver. However, it is important to never self-diagnose and always seek medical attention.

  • Appetite loss
  • Jaundice
  • Feeling ‘full’ in the upper or middle part of the abdomen
  • Feeling weak
  • Nausea
  • Feeling fatigued
  • Swollen legs and/or ankles
  • In some cases, a feeling of confusion

Who Is At Risk Of Developing Fatty Liver Disease?

As we have already discussed, those who drink larger amounts of alcohol are more at risk of developing the condition. But there are other risk factors, these include:

  • Being overweight
  • Those with type 2 diabetes
  • Anyone suffering from metabolic syndrome
  • Those over the age of 50
  • Smokers

What Are The Possible Complications Of Fatty Liver Disease?

In some cases, patients with a fatty liver may experience some complications. Whilst this doesn’t apply to everyone with the condition, it is important to be aware of these so that you can spot them early on.

The potential complications include:

  • For patients who are suffering from alcoholic fatty liver, the condition may progress into one of the other types of liver disease if alcohol continues to be consumed
  • One study showed that patients with this condition are more at risk of developing cancer of the liver
  • With non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, patients may be at risk of the condition developing into cirrhosis, where a transplant may be necessary
  • Water retention in the abdomen
  • Due to a weakened immune system, you may be more at risk of developing infection [5]

How Is Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?

When you visit your doctor to discuss your concerns about the possibility of having fatty liver disease, it is important to ask questions and give your doctor as much information as possible.

Your doctor will most likely ask questions about yours and your family’s medical history, this will determine whether genetics could be involved. He or she will also ask about your lifestyle and about how much alcohol you consume. [6] This will also run alongside questions regarding any symptoms or health problems you have noticed recently.

The doctor will need to examine you and will do this by feeling your abdomen and ordering some blood tests, these tests often show whether a patient has raised enzyme levels in the liver.

Aside from blood tests, you may be asked to attend an appointment for a CT scan, an MRI or an ultrasound to allow doctors to examine what is going on inside your body.

How Is Fatty Liver Disease Treated?

If you have been diagnosed with this disease, the good news is that there are lots of things that can be done to treat it.

The main thing that can be done to treat fatty liver disease is to make lifestyle changes. Quite often these can be simple to implement, these changes might be any of the following, and depending on your situation will depend on what your doctor advises you to do.

  • Lose weight
  • Alter your diet such as limiting your salt intake
  • Exercise
  • Avoid or limit alcohol consumption

For those who struggle with how much alcohol they consume, cutting it out may be a challenge. If this is a problem that you can relate to, there are things that can be done to help.

You should ask your doctor about taking benzodiazepines. This is a type of medication that can help suppress any withdrawal symptoms you may experience when cutting down on alcohol. [7]

According to the NHS, there is no hard and fast evidence to suggest that any particular medication can help fight fatty liver disease. However, they do recognize that some steroids have been used to treat the condition, although this is controversial.

Is it Reversible And Can I Stop It From Getting Worse?

There is light at the end of the tunnel if you are suffering from alcoholic fatty liver disease. The condition can be completely reversed if you are able to abstain from alcohol for a period of two weeks,

In order to stop the fatty liver disease from worsening, it is important to follow your doctor’s advice on lifestyle changes and any other treatment that they suggest.

Things To Remember

Fatty liver disease comes in two forms, one which is related to alcohol consumption and one which is not. The condition causes certain symptoms and if you are concerned that you may have developed it, you should make an appointment to see your GP.

Whilst it is worrying to be diagnosed with fatty liver disease, there are things that can be done to get yourself back to good health.

Cutting down on how much alcohol you drink is vital in improving the condition as well as making other lifestyle changes such as improving your diet and losing weight.

When visiting your GP, you should be sure to ask about any medications which might help with withdrawal from alcohol and air any concerns you may have.

Get Help Today

Looking for advice on anything related to alcohol or health? Call us today on  0800 140 4690.

References

[1] https://medlineplus.gov/fattyliverdisease.html

[2] https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholic-hepatitis

[3] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/cirrhosis/

[4] https://www.clinicaleducation.org/resources/reviews/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld-why-we-need-to-be-responsive/

[5] https://www.medscape.com/answers/175472-100865/what-are-complications-of-fatty-liver-disease

[6] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/

[7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/29212576

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