Fatty Liver: Symptoms and Causes
Published on Oct 09, 2021
By Dr. Surya Bhagwati
Chief In- House Doctor
BAMS, DHA, DHHCM, DHBTC | 30+ Years of Experience
The liver is the largest gland of the body. It performs many crucial functions like digestion, detoxification, protein synthesis and is the only organ that can regenerate. Fatty liver disease is a common condition resulting from the accumulation of extra fat in the liver. Let’s know what causes fatty liver and its symptoms in this blog.
Table Of Contents
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
A healthy liver contains a small amount of fat. When excess fat starts accumulating in the liver cells and reaches around 5% to 10% of your liver’s weight, it results in fatty liver disease. This excess fat can cause damage to the liver and lead to complications.
What Causes Fatty Liver?
Many people link fatty liver to heavy alcohol drinking. But nowadays it is becoming common in people who don’t drink any alcohol at all. This is because of changing dietary and lifestyle habits.
Hectic lifestyle and easy availability of ready to eat food make more people eat more junk foods and high-calorie foods like sweets, meats. Consumption of carbonated drinks, packed juices, and energy drinks is also on the rise.
These may lead to more fat absorption and increases the workload on the liver. Eventually liver fails to process and break down this extra fat. This excess fat builds up in the liver cells developing the fatty liver.
Just like overeating, malnutrition is also one of the causes of fatty liver. Protein-calorie malnutrition affects liver cells, causes liver enzyme imbalances and mitochondrial changes that can lead to NAFLD.
A sedentary lifestyle, physical inactivity, chronic alcohol drinking, and smoking are associated with high rates of fatty liver. Many studies suggest that individuals who do not engage in moderate or vigorous physical activities have increased incidence and severity of the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Risk Factors For Fatty Liver
Fatty liver disease also affects people who don’t have any pre-existing conditions.
Here are risk factors that can increase the risk of developing fatty liver:
- Middle-aged or older (although children can also get NAFLD)
- Obesity or being overweight
- Pre-diabetes or having type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure,
- High cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
- Certain drugs like corticosteroids and anti-cancer drugs
- Rapid weight loss
- Liver infections like hepatitis C
- Exposure to toxins
What Are The Types Of Fatty Liver Disease?
There are two main types of fatty liver:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease also called alcoholic steatohepatitis
What Is A Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?
As the name indicates, this type of fatty liver is not due to heavy alcohol drinking. NAFLD is characterized by elevated liver enzymes in the absence of alcohol consumption and secondary causes of liver diseases.
As per estimates, the prevalence of NAFAD in India is as high as 9 % to 32 % of the general population. NAFLD is of two types:
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFLl)
Also known as simple fatty liver, this is a form of NAFL in which you have fat in your liver but no or low liver inflammation or liver cell damage. The simple fatty liver typically does not progress to cause liver damage or complications.
Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
In this type of NAFLD, in addition to fat deposits, you have inflammation of the liver and liver cell damage. Some of these patients with hepatic steatosis develop liver inflammation or fibrosis and thus to NASH, leading to future complications like liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)
Alcoholic fatty liver is the accumulation of fat in the liver because of heavy drinking. World Health Organization (WHO) defines heavy and hazardous drinking as an average consumption of 40 g or more of pure alcohol a day for men and 20 g or more of pure alcohol a day for women.
Your liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink to facilitate its removal from the body. This process of breaking down alcohol can generate harmful substances that cause inflammation and damage liver cells. It also weakens your natural defenses. If not managed in time, alcoholic fatty liver disease can progress to alcoholic hepatitis and finally liver cirrhosis.
What Are The Symptoms Of Fatty Liver?
You may not experience any fatty liver symptoms in the initial stages of both NAFLD and AFLD. You may come to know about your fatty liver when you do medical tests for some other health issues. Fatty liver can damage liver cells for years or even decades without causing any symptoms.
List of common non-alcoholic fatty liver symptoms:
- General weakness or fatigue
- A feeling of fullness in the right side or center of the abdomen
- Dull pain in the top right of the belly
- Unexplained weight loss
- Visible, enlarged blood vessels under the skin
- Reddish palms
- Yellowish skin and eyes
- Raised liver enzymes
Symptoms Of Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
With the progression of the disease, you may experience these
- An extreme yellowing of the skin and eyes
- Moderate or severe abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite
Symptoms Of The Alcoholic Fatty Disease
- Engaging in heavy alcohol consumption in a short time can result in fatty liver disease. It shows symptoms like
- Feeling of extreme tiredness or weakness.
- Pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.
Stopping alcohol drinking at this stage can help to subside the symptoms of fatty liver disease. Liver disease at this stage is not permanent if the person stops drinking.
Final Words On Fatty Liver Causes And Symptoms
Fatty liver is on the rise due to changing dietary habits and sedentary lifestyles. It is becoming more common even in non-drinkers due to the high consumption of fatty and junk foods. Fatty liver symptoms are vague and may go unnoticed until it becomes severe. So, make suitable dietary and lifestyle changes to prevent or reverse fatty liver. Taking Ayurvedic medicine for fatty liver like Livayu can also strengthen liver health.
Liver Care: Ayurvedic Medicine For Fatty Liver
Liver Care is an Ayurvedic medicine that helps boost liver health with its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
- Operational Guidelines for the integration of Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease into NPCDCS, Directorate General of Health Sciences, MoHFW, Govt of India.
- Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Metabolic Syndrome, Positional Paper, Journal of Clinical and Experimental Hepatology, 2015, 5(1):51–68.
- R Scott Rector, Does physical inactivity cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease? J Appl Physiology, 2011, 111: 1828–1835.
- Ustun TB et al. The World Health Surveys. In: Murray CJL, Evans DB, eds. Health Systems Performance Assessment: Debates, Methods and Empiricism. Geneva, World Health Organization,2003.