Liver as you all know it, is not only the second largest organ of the body after skin, but also a major organ for metabolizing. Whatever we eat goes to liver before reaching anywhere else in the body. The liver stores the excess energy as fat and condensed glucose known as glycogen.
So whenever we eat excessively, the energy is stored in liver as fat. If we continue to do so for months and years together, the liver starts accumulating fat and enlarges in size. A point comes when liver no longer can take it and starts undergoing destruction.
What is Fatty Liver?
Whenever the fat accumulation in liver crosses 5% of liver weight it is known as fatty liver. Though in last century alcohol was believed to be the major cause of fatty liver, the diet and lifestyle is rapidly becoming the major cause of fatty liver now. The disease is known as non alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD. Once it starts destroying liver it is called as steatohepatitis or NASH.
Who is likely to have it?
All individuals who are overweight, obese, diabetic, dyslipidemic (High cholesterol and triglycerides) can suffer from it. In Indians, studies have found that even if the mentioned risk factors are not there they can suffer from fatty liver. In India, all studies carried out so far show that one in five to seven individuals suffer from this disease. Even children are not immune to it and there is a rising incidence in paediatric population.
Is there any Adverse Outcome?
Fatty liver is becoming the greatest killer nowadays in western world. It can cause complications like cirrhosis of liver, jaundice, blood vomiting, bloody stools, fluid collections in abdomen and feet, altered behaviour and even death. It is responsible for 15% of liver cancers. Besides it is commonly associated with heart, kidney, thyroid and joint diseases.
How can we Diagnose it?
Sixty percent of people have no symptoms and are not aware of it. Those who are symptomatic, also have symptoms like mild abdominal pain, fatigue, malaise, weakness. These symptoms are often neglected and people directly present with complications. There are simple tests, though to get it diagnosed. A simple ultrasound can tell you whether you have the disease or not but those who have it require multitude of blood tests, Fibroscan (an advanced sonography) or a liver biopsy, where a piece of liver tissue may be removed to stage the diasease and plan the treatment.
Can we Treat it?
There is no sure shot treatment for the disease as the disease is a long standing one, one needs to immediately consult a gastroenterologist. Drugs that are available have only 40% efficacy at the most. The best modality proven to improve fatty liver is weigh reduction. One needs to cut down on calories and require an expert dietician opinion, a strict exercise regime, control of diabetes and lipids, strict abstinence from alcohol and improvement of lifestyle as a whole.
How do we Protect Ourselves from it?
As the disease has poor outcomes and there is lack of successive treatment, the best way to protect yourself is prevention and to achieve that is to change your lifestyle. Junk food and soft drinks are loaded with sugars and is the major cause in western population. Alcohol can further potentiate the damage and is to be taken in moderation. One should walk at least 30 minutes a day and should have a strict exercise routine. Diabetics should control their diabetes adequately and those with thyroid and lipid abnormalities should be promptly treated.