What Is Fatty Liver? And How Do You Know If You Have It?

fatty liver - obesityBy  Rachel Pomerance Berl

You know about America’s obesity epidemic. You’ve likely seen news  footage of fat American torsos waddling through a generic streetscape as  an announcer intones the alarming statistics  – that 36 percent of U.S. adults are obese. And you’ve probably also  heard about sickness that can spawn from obesity such as heart disease,  stroke and diabetes.  But there’s another consequence to this crisis that, while lesser  known, is no less dangerous. It’s called nonalcoholic fatty liver  disease or, simply, fatty liver – and it sounds like what it is.

“They  generally are a little bit swollen, and they look fat … They don’t  look too good,” says Don Rockey, chair of the department of internal  medicine at the Medical University of South Carolina. But unless you’re  looking at your liver, you probably wouldn’t know if it had turned  yellow and bloated from excess fat. And that’s precisely the problem:  Most people never realize they have the malady unless it’s spotted on an  ultrasound or blood test or when it’s progressed to such an advanced  point that symptoms occur.

“I think a lot of  people are walking around with liver disease and don’t know it,” says  Kymberly Watt, medical director of liver transplants at the Mayo Clinic  in Rochester, Minn.

As much as 35 percent of  American adults and 15 percent of children have fatty liver, and its  prevalence is largely linked to the growing rates of obesity, diabetes  and lipid problems, according to Naga Chalasani, director of the  division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Indiana University’s  School of Medicine. In most patients (up to 80 percent), the condition  won’t cause problems, he explains. But in the rest of the patient  population, it can develop into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, an  inflammation of the liver, which can lead to fatal diseases like  cirrhosis.

A scarring of the liver tissue,  cirrhosis may be caused by hepatitis, alcohol abuse or, as discussed,  fatty liver disease. In any case, it renders the liver dysfunctional and  thereby requires a transplant to continue the organ’s vital work of  filtration in the body.

About once a week,  Rockey says he will see a patient with complications from cirrhosis as a  result of a fatty liver that went undiscovered. “The process smolders  for years and years and years,” Rockey says of the patients in this  situation. “They didn’t know they had a problem, and boom – they show up  with cirrhosis.” While Hepatitis C is currently the leading cause of  cirrhosis in this country, fatty liver is projected to quickly overtake  it, he says. “This is an epidemic in the United States that is  attributed to our lifestyle, and we can thank McDonald’s and all the  fast food and unhealthy joints,” he says.

Unless  the disease progresses to cirrhosis, fatty liver can be prevented and  even reversed by losing weight. “Weight loss is the key, and it doesn’t  have to be gigantic amounts of weight loss … every bit helps for  sure,” Watt says. She advises that people strive for a body mass index  below 25, the benchmark for an overweight diagnosis, according to the  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. She also stresses the  importance of controlling cholesterol levels and, for those with  diabetes, managing blood sugar. People with risk factors such as obesity  and metabolic syndrome should also be screened for fatty liver, Watt  says.

“What I tell people to do is take care of  themselves,” Rockey says, stressing the importance of a healthy  lifestyle for preventing fatty liver. “What any good physician tells  their patient is: Eat a healthy diet; don’t smoke; exercise regularly  … I think it’s as simple as that.”

Reference: http://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2013/10/17/what-is-fatty-liver-and-how-do-you-know-if-you-have-it

1 Comment

  1. Caren Carla | | Reply

    This is really good article and in the conclusions, I will say that fatty liver can caused several serious diseases like Jaundice that can be very serious if not treated properly.

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