How Serious Is Fatty Liver Disease And How to Diagnose It In Early Stages?

As the second largest organ in your body, your liver is tasked with several functions. It processes the nutrients from food and drinks and sifts the harmful substance out of your bloodstream. The liver plays a vital role in your body system, and although a small amount of liver fat is safe, the real danger arises when the fat becomes too much.

Fatty liver disease is a serious health issue that occurs when the liver has a buildup of fat. This article will explore the stages of fatty liver disease and how to diagnose it early.

Stages Of Fatty Liver Disease

According to Fibronostics, excess liver fat results in liver inflammation, which in the long run, will damage your liver and cause scarring. And in a worst-case scenario, excess liver fat leads to liver failure.

Fatty liver disease is a serious health issue
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Fatty liver disease occurs in four stages.

  • Simple Fatty Liver: although excess fat builds up in the liver, it isn’t dangerous if it doesn’t progress past this stage.
  • Steatohepatitis occurs when there is inflammation in the liver due to excess fat.
  • Fibrosis: There is scarring due to the intense inflammation in the liver. But even at this stage, the liver can still function.
  • Cirrhosis: the scarring in the liver has become persistent and has spread, affecting the liver’s functionality. At this stage, fatty liver disease is severe and irreversible.

In several cases, fatty liver disease does not show any visible symptoms, but you may feel more fatigued and experience some pain in your right upper abdomen.

Individuals with alcoholic fatty liver disease or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may experience liver fibrosis or cirrhosis, the most life-threatening stage that results in liver failure. Because of its irreversible nature, it is advised that people prevent it from happening in the first place.

The following are some symptoms of cirrhosis you might notice.

  • Appetite loss
  • Yellow eyes and skin (Jaundice)
  • Queasiness
  • Upper right abdominal pain
  • Irregular weight loss
  • Prickly skin

Causes Of Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease occurs when the fat in the liver cells increases. Fatty liver disease affects humans in two forms; alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The first one affects people who drink a lot of alcohol, and the second one affects people who do not consume a lot of alcohol.

The following are some of the causes of fatty liver disease.

  • Too much alcohol intake can cause alcoholic fatty liver disease, which changes your body’s metabolic processes. When these fatty acids combine with the metabolic process, they create a type of fat that grows in the liver.
  • The causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are not as specific as AFLD. But with NAFLD, it’s either the immune system does not metabolize fat fast enough, or the body has an increased fat production. Other factors might include; insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.

Diagnosing Fatty Liver Disease In The Early Stage

Your doctor would be the first to spot signs of liver failure because the ailment doesn’t show obvious symptoms. Increased liver enzymes that may appear on a blood test will raise the alarm because when your liver enzymes are high, it means your liver is in danger.

To ascertain the condition, a diagnosis would be required. Your doctor might request the following to make a diagnosis.

Diagnosing Fatty Liver Disease In The Early Stage
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1. Health History

Your doctor will want to know about your health history and whether you consume much alcohol or not. Your answer would help them decide if you have AFLD or NAFLD, so you’d want to be honest.

They’d also inquire about your eating habits, the medications you take, and if you have other health conditions that may have led to fatty liver disease.

2. Physical Examination

Your doctor will perform a physical examination for jaundice, enlarged liver, and others to determine signs of fatty liver disease

3. Blood Tests

Blood tests will indicate if your liver enzymes are high, and your doctor will look out for alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST). If your liver enzymes are elevated, there could be a problem with your liver.

4. Imaging Tests

Your doctor might request an ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT) scans. Although these tests will reveal if you have fat in your liver or not, they don’t exactly show the type of fatty liver disease you have.

5. Liver Biopsy

A liver biopsy is not required for everyone with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If you’re at risk for non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or if other test results show that you might be in danger of cirrhosis, your doctor will recommend a biopsy.

During a biopsy, your doctor removes a sample of your liver tissue for a lab test, and the result will show if you have liver inflammation or damage.

No, you wouldn’t feel the pain because your doctor will give you drugs to control the pain and will numb the area around your liver. After that, they will use a small needle to take a piece of your liver tissue, as that is the only way to diagnose NASH.

What Can Be Done?

Fatty liver disease at the simple stage is not dangerous and can be reversed with proper lifestyle habits. But when excess fat builds up and gets to the cirrhosis level, the damage would have been done, and you might require a transplant. Before your doctor makes any decision, however, they would need to carry out a diagnosis to understand how to tackle the situation appropriately. If you notice any symptoms, seek medical attention promptly.