Vital Signs

The Official Blog of Virtual Wellness

10 Things you should know about a Fatty Liver

Updated: Jul 12, 2021

You have heard about diabetes, hypertension and even cancer, but did you know that fatty liver disease also affects tens of thousands of Trinidadians and Tobagonians?

It is one of the most common diseases that may accompany alcoholism, diabetes and obesity among other chronic disorders.

While easily preventable, most people are unaware of what it is, the causes, its symptoms and how to prevent and treat it.

The Greek word for liver is hepato; so anything involving the liver begins with hepato-.

For example, hepatocyte refers to a liver cell (-cyte) or hepatitis refers to liver inflammation (-itis).

Fun fact: the adult human liver weighs about 3 pounds and is made up of 1000 small lobes that form about 4 larger lobes (Source: Gray’s Anatomy).

1) In the average adult, a small amount of fat may be present. However, when too much fat accumulates in your liver then you may get fatty liver disease which can cause many different problems of its own.

Fact: studies have shown as much as 10% of the normal liver may contain fat.

2) While the liver has many functions, a fatty liver may cause inflammation or a hepatitis leading over time to scars being formed in the tissues. When the scars become too widespread the liver may begin to fail and eventually liver failure or cirrhosis may be the outcome.

Fact: the liver is one of the largest organs in our body and can perform over 500 known functions.

3) The liver is responsible for processing nutrients from your diet, making bile, removing toxins, metabolising medications, breaking down fat, and producing proteins to help us clot among many others.

Fact: we cannot live without a liver.

4) Sugar and high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) are now among the more common triggers of fatty liver disease.

Alcohol is also a common cause among persons who use it on a regular basis over a period of time.

Some studies are showing that sugar may be just as damaging to the liver as alcohol, even if you are not overweight.

Fact: sugar has been associated with obesity and type 2 diabetes as well.

5) Alcohol fatty liver disease is caused by fat build-up when the liver is damaged by chronic alcohol use. It may progress to alcoholic hepatitis.

Fact: Christmas and Carnival time in Trinidad & Tobago are the peak seasons for alcohol use.

6) Risk factors include obesity, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) as well as medications and genetics.

Fact: some women who become pregnant may develop an acute or sudden fatty liver which usually occurs in the third trimester.

7) Prevention of a fatty liver involves limiting alcohol, maintaining a healthy weight, a diet with limited refined carbohydrates, high-fructose corn syrup, white rice, white bread and other refined foods and oils, and regular exercise.

Fact: follow your doctor’s advice and treat your diabetes and obesity early to prevent fatty liver disease from progressing to irreversible liver failure.

8) Early fatty liver disease may have no symptoms. As it gets worse though symptoms may include general weakness and fatigue, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, jaundice and itchy skin. Patients may complain of an upper right dull or aching tummy pain.

Fact: Symptoms of fatty liver and liver disease may include flu-like symptoms, fever or shivers.

9) Blood tests for fatty liver may be normal. That’s because liver enzymes and other liver proteins may be normal in the early stages. If fatty liver disease is suspected, your doctor may try to feel for an enlarged liver (though many will be not be felt) and request an ultrasound exam to look for any fat deposits.

Fact: A CT or MRI scan and liver biopsy may be required if your doctor thinks that you may have really bad liver damage or even liver cancer.

10) Other lifestyle changes will be necessary and you may even be put on some medication or supplements to assist the liver healing. In later stages, treatment may be very difficult and require a liver transplant. That option is not available in our public healthcare setting.

Fact: Prevention of fatty liver disease is most important so make the lifestyle changes now so you don’t have to worry about getting a new liver.

Dr. Navi Muradali, DDS, MBBS is a medical doctor with a special focus on the oil and gas sector. He was a former City Medical Officer of Health (CMOH) and is the founder of Virtual Wellness.

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Health Disclaimer:

The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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