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Fat Diseases

Fatty liver also known as fatty liver disease and fatty infiltration of the liver refers to the accumulation of fat cells in the liver. The liver normally contains some amount of fat. The liver helps to convert food to protein, fats and carbohydrates. Included in the fats are triglycerides which are necessary to produce new cells and hormones.In fatty liver disease, globules of fat containing triglycerides get built up in the liver cells (hepatocytes). Fat can also get transferred into the liver from other parts of the body. The rate at which fat gets broken down in the liver can also slow down causing fatty cells to build up

Fatty liver by itself is a benign condition and may cause no harm. However when the fat constitutes more than 10% of the liver's weight then problems can occur.

Simple fatty liver is also known as steatosis. Excessive fat in the liver can cause the liver to get inflammed and cause liver damage. Fatty liver inflammation can be caused by alcohol abuse in which case the condition is known as alcoholic steatohepatitis. However it can also be caused by obesity and is then known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. As the disease progresses liver inflammation can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Who can get affected by fatty liver?

Excessive alcohol consumption can cause fatty liver. Those who are obese or have diabetes mellitus are also susceptible to fatty liver disease. Children with Reye's syndrome are also known to develop fatty liver disease. Sometimes people develop steatosis even if they do not abuse alcohol or are not very obese. This may be due to hereditary conditions or use of prescription medications that interfere with liver functions. Pregnant women can also develop fatty liver.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver?

Usually fatty liver does not produce symptoms until the disease causes liver inflammation or hepatitis and cirrhosis. In some rare cases fatty liver symptoms include

  • Jaundice
  • pain on the right side of the abdomen
  • swelling in the abdomen
  • fever

Pregnant women with fatty liver can experience

  • Nausea
  • Lack of hunger
  • pain in the abdomen
  • Pre-eclampsia and Eclampsia that causes high blood pressure, swelling and seizures.

What causes fatty liver?

  • Alcohol
  • Obesity
  • Starvation
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • corticosteroids
  • Poisons (carbon tetrachloride and yellow phosphorus)
  • Cushing's syndrome
  • Hyperlipidemia
  • Pregnancy

In addition to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) which are considered primary fatty liver diseases, there are also secondary fatty liver diseases. These include alcohol liver disease or ALD, chronic viral hepatitis C (HCV), chronic viral hepatitis B (HBV), chronic autoimmune hepatitis (AIH), and Wilson's disease

Microvesicular fatty liver may be caused by valproic acid toxicity and high-dose tetracycline or during pregnancy.

How is fatty liver diagnosed?

Fatty liver may be diagnosed during a routine blood screening as it cause minor elevation of liver enzymes.

The patient can have enlarged liver or minor elevation of liver enzyme tests. Clinical and/or biochemical signs of insulin resistance also indicate fatty liver. Images of the liver can be obtained by an ultrasound test, CT (computed tomography) scan, or MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). A liver biopsy may be needed to be certain of fatty liver disease and ascertain its severity.


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