The fatty liver or hepatic steatosis is in medical terminology as hepatic steatosis and is due to the eating habits in the Western industrialized countries as a very common phenomenon. This always occurs when the body is supplied with more fats than it can break down.
What is fatty liver?
According to Sportingology, fatty liver is a very common disease in industrialized countries. One speaks of this when fats are stored in the cells of the liver – these are so-called neutral fats.
There are basically three types of fatty liver: the light, the moderate and the strong fatty liver. If fat deposits are present in a third of all liver cells, it is called a light fatty liver.
In the case of moderate fatty liver, on the other hand, deposits are found in about two thirds of the cells and in severe fatty liver in more than two thirds of the organ. Pregnancy-related fatty liver is a special form of fatty liver.
Obesity, diabetes and alcoholism are the most common triggers of fatty liver in western industrialized countries. Alcohol is the cause of fatty liver in around 50 percent of all diseases.
In contrast to a high-fat diet, however, malnutrition can also trigger fatty liver and certain poisons can also cause it. In malnutrition, the protein deficiency plays a decisive role, which is often found in developing countries, but also in the presence of anorexia.
Wilson’s disease, a disorder in the copper metabolism, is another, albeit less common, cause of fatty liver.
Symptoms, ailments & signs
Fatty liver does not always cause discomfort. Before the first symptoms appear, increased blood pressure can be detected. As the disease progresses, the blood lipid levels also increase, and in individual cases the blood sugar level becomes unbalanced as the disease progresses. In many cases, those affected suffer from insulin resistance and are overweight.
In addition, fatty liver disease is often associated with an unhealthy lifestyle. The fatty liver itself sometimes manifests itself through problems with the digestion of food. Some people feel a slight feeling of pressure or fullness in the right upper abdomen. In the second stage of the disease, fatty liver is also noticeable through loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and diarrhea. A fever can also occur.
At the same time, there are signs of jaundice, such as noticeably yellow skin, severe abdominal pain and a high fever. If the illness is based on an alcoholic cause, the typical symptoms of alcoholic illness appear as the illness progresses, i.e. failure symptoms, irritability and changes in personality. Externally, alcoholism can be recognized by a reddened face, sunken skin and dark circles under the eyes. If these symptoms and symptoms occur, it can be concluded that it is fatty liver.
The course of the disease or the extent of the symptoms depends on which stage of the fatty liver it is. If the liver is only slightly fatty, the patients usually only feel a slight feeling of pressure, whereas severe fatty liver can lead to severe pain.
These mostly affect the right upper abdomen. This pain arises due to a large enlargement of the liver – the organ can often even be palpated through the abdominal wall.
In the worst case, however, the fatty liver can develop into more serious diseases. Liver cirrhosis, for example, is a disease that is often associated with the complete loss of all liver functions. If patients do not stop drinking alcohol at this stage of the disease, the mortality rate is at least 60 percent.
Fatty liver can lead to serious complications. Acute fatty liver causes vomiting and nausea and leads to loss of appetite and weight. In addition, there are tiredness and typical fever symptoms, which increase as the disease progresses. Later there is strong pressure in the upper abdomen and the formation of a water belly. The damaged liver can lead to the development of further diseases and symptoms.
The typical secondary diseases include cirrhosis of the liver and inflammation of the fatty liver. In fatty liver inflammation, the liver cells die within a short time and inflammatory reactions occur in the liver tissue. This can restrict organ function and cause jaundice, among other things. A cirrhosis can disrupt brain function and limit the mental performance.
Mood swings, anxiety and a sharp decrease in wellbeing can also occur. Physically, shrink liver causes bleeding of the esophagus, ascites or liver cancer, among other things. In the terminal stages, the condition eventually leads to liver failure. The risk of cirrhosis of the liver is particularly high in chronic fatty liver disease. If the underlying disease is not treated immediately, the severe liver damage leads to various secondary symptoms and ultimately to the death of the patient.
When should you go to the doctor?
In the early stages, fatty liver disease does not necessarily have to be treated by a doctor; those affected can first change their diet and lifestyle. But if you continuously suffer from a feeling of pressure in the liver area and a feeling of fullness, you should definitely have a medical examination. Fatty liver should be monitored regularly even if the cholesterol level is very high. This is especially true for alcohol addicts, but they often lack insight into their addiction problem and the health problems that result from it.
Even for people who are severely overweight, it makes sense to see a doctor to follow a diet under medical supervision that will reduce weight and improve liver health. If fatty liver is not yet known, symptoms such as a feeling of pressure in the liver, fever, nausea, symptoms of jaundice or severe weight loss for no apparent cause may indicate fatty liver. It is important to clarify as early as possible whether hepatitis or liver cancer is the cause of the symptoms.
If left untreated, fatty liver can develop into life-threatening inflammation. Anyone who has a tendency to fatty liver should consult their doctor together on how best to change their diet in order to relieve the liver and prevent complications.
Treatment & Therapy
Treatment for fatty liver generally depends on how far it has progressed. In the best case scenario, it is sufficient to fundamentally change your eating habits in order to counteract the symptoms of fatty liver.
In order to make the diagnosis of fatty liver unequivocally, the attending physician will first perform a thorough physical examination and usually also examine the abdomen closely with the help of an ultrasound scan. The liver puncture, in turn, is used to determine the exact causes of fatty liver based on tissue samples. In this case, the doctor sticks a needle into the abdominal wall under local anesthesia and thus enters the liver. The advantage of this examination is that other diseases such as cirrhosis of the liver can also be detected. The analysis of the blood, in turn, serves to examine the liver enzymes.
The fatty liver itself is usually not treated with medication, but other dangerous diseases such as cirrhosis can develop from the fatty liver.
In the case of fatty liver, therapy usually consists solely of changing one’s diet or avoiding alcohol as far as possible.
Outlook & forecast
The prognosis of fatty liver disease depends on the diagnosis, the cause and the start of treatment. Patients with alcohol-induced fatty liver disease have a poor prognosis. In these cases, the disease arose from cirrhosis of the liver and is associated with the death of the liver cells.
If the disease progresses seriously, the patient is at risk of liver failure and thus premature death. Cure is seldom achieved with immediate and permanent abstinence from alcohol and transplantation of a donor organ. Since the liver is one of the organs of the human organism whose ability is a regeneration process, patients who receive an early diagnosis and immediately combat the causes can achieve a regression of the symptoms.
However, the more liver cells that are damaged or dead, the less likely they will be cured. Obese patients are asked to change their way of life in order to achieve a good prognosis. You need to lose weight and eat healthily from now on. With a strict diet, you have a good chance of improving your health.
If there is a relapse, the prognosis worsens. The organism is weakened because health problems have usually occurred over many years. The likelihood of developing liver cancer is increased in these patients and can lead to further complications.
The best way to prevent fatty liver disease is to avoid alcohol. Of course, one or the other glass of red wine is certainly allowed at a celebration, but alcohol consumption should not become a daily habit. A healthy and, above all, balanced diet is also important to avoid the disease fatty liver – as is sufficient exercise, by the way.
If diabetes is known to be the cause of fatty liver disease, affected patients should have their blood sugar checked carefully and correctly adjusted. In this way, the onset of obesity in the liver can usually be stopped quickly.
The best aftercare is to adhere to preventive measures. The patient usually does this independently. A doctor, on the other hand, only accompanies the course of the disease as planned in severe cases. Suitable examinations are the determination of the liver values in the blood and the removal of a tissue sample, the so-called liver biopsy. An ultrasound examination also provides clarity about the extent of fatty liver disease.
Medicines can help cure fatty liver disease. These are usually prescribed for diabetes and lipid metabolism disorders that cause a disease. Once cured, fatty liver can recur. There is no immunity, so preventive measures accompany the rest of the patient’s life.
If complaints can be traced back to alcohol abuse, long-term abstinence is essential. Affected people may undergo withdrawal in a closed facility. Especially in the event of a relapse, addicts should seek help quickly. A one-sided diet and obesity also lead to fatty liver disease.
With the help of therapists, patients can achieve a balanced diet and reach their normal weight. Those who manage to eliminate the causes have good prospects of recovery. In most cases, the liver regenerates. In the elderly, on the other hand, the healing power of the body is significantly limited.
You can do that yourself
So far there are no effective drugs against fatty liver. This makes it all the more important to lead a conscious lifestyle after the diagnosis. By eating a healthy and balanced diet and avoiding the original trigger (such as alcohol or certain medications), those affected can at least partially reverse the obesity of the liver.
Overweight people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease should take steps to normalize their body weight. A combination of diet and exercise is ideal. In the case of alcoholic fatty liver, alcohol should be completely avoided. In addition, therapeutic measures are recommended. The doctor responsible will usually prescribe various medications for the patient to counter the withdrawal symptoms and refer him to a self-help group as the process progresses.
Which measures make sense in detail depends on the severity of the fatty liver and the individual symptoms. Therefore: always consult your doctor and inform him about unusual complaints. If medication is suspected to be the cause of fatty liver disease, a change in medication should be discussed with the doctor. If the fatty liver is steroid-related, the preparations must be discontinued immediately. A hospital stay is advisable in the event of severe complaints.