Fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease on the planet, affecting over a quarter of all people. While there are generally no symptoms to accompany the disease, in some cases it can lead to severe liver damage if left untreated. But what causes fatty liver disease? And what treatment options are available?
Types of Fatty Liver Disease
There are two basic types of fatty liver disease — alcoholic and nonalcoholic. Though the causes differ in each case, both can have detrimental effects on your liver.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (Alcoholic Steatohepatitis)
As the name suggests, alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by excessive alcohol use. When your liver processes alcohol, it can produce harmful byproducts that can damage the liver. This condition is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease, occurring before alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis. If no preventive or corrective measures are taken, your liver will slowly degrade into the more severe stages of liver disease, which ultimately can lead to liver failure.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common version of the condition, affecting around a quarter of the world’s population. There are two different types of of NAFLD:
- Simple fatty liver disease – occurs when there is a buildup of fat in your liver but no significant inflammation and no cell damage.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – this is more serious than simple fatty liver. NASH also causes inflammation and liver cell damage. Ultimately it can lead to scarring of the liver (fibrosis), cirrhosis, and even liver cancer
What causes fatty liver disease?
While alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, the exact cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is not known. There are, however, several risk factors that have been linked to developing NAFLD. These include:
- Type 2 diabetes or prediabetes
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Certain metabolic disorders
- Certain infections, such as hepatitis C
- Certain prescription drugs, such as corticosteroids and cancer medications
Diagnosing Fatty Liver Disease
There are generally no symptoms associated with the disease, so diagnosis generally occurs after receiving abnormal lab results. The diagnosis process involves:
- A look at your medical history — especially your alcohol usage, current and previous medications, and other risk factors
- A physical exam — this involves height and weight measurements as well as looking for other visible signs of liver disease (such as jaundice)
- Further lab work — such as blood tests, imaging, or biopsies. These are done to check for fat levels in the liver and if any scarring / damage has occurred and to what extent
Treatment Options for Fatty Liver Disease
Currently, there are no medications that have been approved for the treatment of fatty liver disease. The most effective treatment options, therefore, are lifestyle changes. The most important ones include:
- Weight loss
- Reducing or eliminating alcohol usage
- Healthy diet
- Vaccination against hepatitis A and B
- Regular exercise
If You Need Testing or Help Controlling Fatty Liver Disease, Nurse Practitioners of Florida Can Help
At Nurse Practitioners of Florida, we have a dedicated team of certified nurse practitioners who have an unwavering commitment to providing you with care and compassion. When you call any of our locations, you will be greeted by a live person who’s ready to offer acute medical care as well as preventive measures — including flu vaccines. And, above everything else, you will be treated like family.