Montclair, NJ - Steatosis (STEE-uh-TOE-sis) — commonly called “fatty liver disease”— occurs when the amount of fat in your liver exceeds the normal expected range, usually about 5-15%. Fairly common in the United States, the disease affects as much as 25% of the population, and usually people in middle age.
Dr. R. Swami Nathan, a gastroenterologist with Hackensack Meridian Health Mountainside Medical Group, explains “Left untreated, fatty liver disease can progress further and further, severely affect the functioning of your liver. In time this can lead to more serious conditions, even causing long-term tissue damage. Some people with advanced liver disease will even need a liver transplant.”
Two types of fatty liver disease
When it comes to fatty liver disease, there are two types: Alcoholic fatty liver, when the fat buildup in the liver is caused by drinking large amounts of alcohol; and non-alcoholic fatty liver, when the buildup is not linked to drinking alcohol. When fatty liver disease occurs in people who consume high amounts of alcohol, it is usually diagnosed as alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD), and when it occurs in people who drink little to no alcohol, it’s usually diagnosed as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Who’s at risk?
Who is at risk for fatty liver diseases? If you’re overweight, have Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance, have metabolic syndrome, or consume alcohol daily (more than two drinks per day on average for men, or more than one drink per day on average for women), then you may be at a significantly higher risk for developing the disease.
Some people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who are overweight or have been diagnosed with diabetes may also be more likely for their condition to progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (or “NASH” for short) with fibrosis or cirrhosis, which is the most severe condition resulting from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. There is no cure for NASH, which usually affects people between the ages of 40 and 60, though children are also sometime diagnosed with it as well.
The problem is often that even if you have fatty liver disease, you may not have or notice any symptoms for some time, or until it’s too late. The disease progresses slowly, so many people are living with fatty liver disease and don't even know it.
When people with fatty liver disease do actually have symptoms, they’re often described as a feeling of fullness in the middle or upper right side of the abdomen or as general abdominal pain that seems odd or unfamiliar. Often, people will experience fatigue or tiredness, or loss of appetite and weight loss, swelling of the abdomen or legs, yellowing of the skin or eyes, and sometimes they may even have trouble thinking clearly or performing routine tasks at home or at work.
Prevention is the best medicine
How do you prevent fatty liver disease in the first place? It starts with a proper diet and exercise. A diet that is high in fruits, nuts, grains and healthy fats, while also low in refined foods, carbohydrates and meat can help. Daily cardio exercise is a must. And naturally, limiting or eliminating alcohol intake can also play a major role. If you think you may have fatty liver disease, early diagnosis is critical. Blood tests can usually tell your doctor how your liver is functioning, but other simple diagnostic tests are available to help make an accurate diagnosis and determine the right course of action for you and your condition.
In general, the disease can be treated early on in its progression, but if the disease has gone undetected for a long time, it might become untreatable. For many people, however, fatty liver disease is treatable — and possibly even reversable — with meaningful dietary changes and a commitment to increased exercise. If you have concerns about your liver health, see your doctor as soon as possible.
Dr. R. Swami Nathan sees patients at 799 Bloomfield Avenue, Suite 102, Verona, NJ. New patients are welcome and may visit mountainsidedocs.com to request an appointment or call, 973-239-8373.