What Should I Know About Fatty Liver Disease?

The liver is the second largest organ in your body and performs multiple crucial roles, including producing bile, filtering blood, and processing glucose. Persistent damage to this vital organ could induce cirrhosis of the liver, a medical problem where fibrotic tissue takes over healthy areas. Several factors and liver diseases have been known to lead to cirrhosis of the liver. A prevalent condition, referred to as fatty liver disease, is experienced by nearly 25 percent of U.S. citizens and is on the rise.

Roughly 20 – 40% of Americans are living with a fatty liver. In the event that you or a family member could be at a higher risk for fatty liver disease, a confirmed diagnosis could help you take steps to minimize the damage caused to the liver. The gastroenterologists at Digestive Health Associates of Texas can offer expert care for fatty liver disease. Schedule an appointment at one of our locations throughout Dallas, TX to further explore this concerning yet preventable health problem.

What should I know about fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver indicates that there is an unhealthy accumulation of fat in the liver. Although a small amount of fat in the liver may not be a concern, a fat makeup of more than 5% might cause inflammation and advanced scarring, which is known to the medical community as hepatic steatosis. The primary variations of fatty liver disease include and NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) and AFLD (alcoholic fatty liver disease).

Underlying causes of fatty liver disease

Excessive alcohol consumption might lead to a buildup of fat in the liver. If this condition ends up causing inflammation or scarring, it's generally referred to as alcoholic steatohepatitis. For individuals who drink little to no alcohol, the underlying health factors for NAFLD can include:

  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Being overweight
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Type 2 diabetes

When NAFLD progresses and causes swelling and injury to the cells in the liver, it is diagnosed as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH. Rising in prevalence, NASH is expected to overtake the hepatitis C virus as the number one reason for liver transplant surgeries in the country.

How can I identify the signs of a fatty liver condition?

Often, a patient with fatty liver disease is unlikely to present any obvious symptoms. If symptoms do show up, however, they could potentially point to advanced damage to the liver. These symptoms can include:

  • Nausea
  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin
  • An unusual color to the urine
  • Abdominal swelling and swollen ankles
  • Extreme drowsiness
  • Bowel movement changes

If you or a member of your family is experiencing these health concerns, contact Digestive Health Associates of Texas in Dallas, TX so that a gastrointestinal specialist can assess the condition. Without proper care, a fatty liver condition could progress to cirrhosis and possibly result in other health concerns, like ascites (the buildup of fluid in the abdominal area), swollen veins in the esophagus, hepatic encephalopathy (a decline in brain function due to liver disease), liver cancer, and ultimately, liver failure that may require a liver transplant.

Can excess fat in the liver be treated?

Generally, the ideal ways to address hepatic steatosis include improvements in dietary and exercise habits. Individuals with alcoholic fatty liver disease should abstain from consuming alcohol, which can help prevent the progression of a fatty liver condition. Abstaining from alcoholic beverages is still recommended if a person's fatty liver disease is not alcohol-related. For those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, dropping 10% of your overall body weight may significantly reduce the amount of fat in the liver. Regular heart-healthy activities can also often decrease the accumulation of fat in the organ. Following a healthy dietary intake could function to help control issues that are risk factors for a fatty liver condition, including diabetes and high cholesterol, while also diminishing the fat percentage in the liver.

Receive expert care for a fatty liver in Dallas, TX

In the absence of expert care, fat in the liver could progress to the point of causing advanced scarring and liver failure. If you or your family member is at risk for fatty liver disease, schedule an appointment at Digestive Health Associates of Texas for more on how to manage this medical issue. Our practices throughout the Dallas, TX area employ an expert staff of GI doctors that prioritize the health and safety of their patients ahead of all else.