Patients with fatty liver disease (steatosis) usually complain of a feeling of fullness or abdominal pain, yellowish skin, weakness, and extreme tiredness. Fatty liver disease pertains to a medical condition caused by excessive fat build-up in the liver.
One of the causes of steatosis is excessive calories, causing fat to accumulate, which won’t be properly metabolized in the liver. High triglycerides, diabetes, and obesity are some of the predisposing factors of fatty liver disease. To combat this, a keto and a fatty liver diet are recommended.
In this article, you’ll learn ways to detect and prevent fatty liver disease, helping safeguard your health.
1. Assess Signs And Symptoms
The two general types of fatty liver disease are alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). If you have fat build-up in your liver but no history of heavy alcohol consumption, the doctor may diagnose NAFLD.
Drinking too much alcohol causes undue damage to the liver (ethanol hepatotoxicity), limiting its capability to properly break down fats. Because fat isn’t metabolized, it accumulates in the liver, causing alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is considered the early stage of alcohol-related liver disease.
If you believe you have fatty liver disease, one of the best ways to it is to assess the signs and symptoms. Fatty liver is usually asymptomatic or has no noticeable symptoms. However, a patient may always feel tired more than usual or experience pain or discomfort in the abdomen’s upper right side.
The signs and symptoms of steatosis will depend on the extent of liver damage. Cirrhosis results in severe liver fibrosis or scarring of the liver, which is characterized by:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain and swelling
- Yellowish eyes and skin
- Edema of the legs
2. Obtain Medical History
Based on the signs and symptoms, the doctor will be asking some questions about certain health-related aspects to help rule out fatty liver disease, such as the following:
- Family medical history of liver disease
- Alcohol consumption
- Existing medical conditions
- Recent health changes
- Medications or supplements
- Lifestyle habits
3. Physical Examination
The doctor will press or palpate the patient’s abdomen to check if the liver is swollen or enlarged, which indicates liver inflammation.
4. Blood Test
A basic way to detect fatty liver disease is a blood test–assessing if the liver is normal or not through liver function tests. Fatty liver disease is usually diagnosed after the patient’s blood tests. If they show an increase in liver enzymes, it’s indicative of liver inflammation, which can be shown in an alanine aminotransferase test and aspartate aminotransferase test (ALT and AST). An additional test will be ordered if the patient has high liver enzymes in a blood test.
The normal AST ranges from 10 to 40 units per liter (U/L). On the other hand, normal ALT ranges 7 to 56 U/L. Mild ALT and AST elevations are twice or thrice higher than the normal range, with a severely elevated level in the 1000s range.
5. Imaging Studies
The doctor orders the following imaging studies to help diagnose fatty liver disease:
- Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): This diagnostic imaging study uses a safe level of magnetic field to create a detailed picture of the liver. MRI can calculate the fat percentage in the liver, so it’s considered the most sensitive imaging study for steatosis.
- Computed Tomography Scan (CT Scan): This imaging test can detect fat deposits in the liver, but a CT scan has limited sensitivity in detecting early signs and measuring hepatic steatosis.
- Ultrasound: This diagnostic study can evaluate diffuse liver disease, including hepatitis, fatty liver, and cirrhosis. A fatty liver is typically brighter on a liver ultrasound as compared to normal liver, whereas hepatitis is less bright.
6. Liver Biopsy
The confirmatory diagnostic procedure to detect fatty liver is liver biopsy, in which a fine needle is inserted into the liver for sample tissue removal. The liver tissue will be studied under a microscope to check for inflammation and scarring.
7. Limit Or Avoid Alcohol Intake
At the moment, fatty liver has no approved medications. Doctors usually advise patients to change their lifestyle habits to reverse and avoid worsening fatty liver disease. Prevent the disease of fatty liver disease by limiting or avoiding alcohol intake.
8. Take Steps To Lose Weight
Obesity increases a person’s risk of fatty liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease NAFD) involves inflammation and insulin resistance of the liver due to excessive fat deposits. Due to insulin resistance, the pancreas needs to produce more insulin to regulate blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes.
For this reason, patients with fatty liver disease should take steps to lose weight in the following ways:
- Regular Exercise: The best exercise to promote a healthy liver includes strength training or resistance exercises, such as weight lifting. Aim for 30 to 60 minutes of mild to moderate aerobic exercise for at least five days a week and strength training three days a week.
- Diet Changes: Avoid eating high-calorie foods such as French fries, takeaway pizza, ice cream, and soda. The diet recommended for fatty liver disease includes fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains, high-fiber foods, less refined carbohydrates, salt, sugar, trans fat, and saturated fat.
- Fasting: Researchers found that intermittent fasting may change fatty acid metabolism in the liver, helping prevent fatty liver disease and improve glucose tolerance.
Fatty liver disease can be detected by assessing the signs and symptoms, obtaining medical history, and conducting a thorough physical examination. Imaging studies, such as CT scans, ultrasound, and MRI, can be used to check the liver’s images to rule out inflammation and scarring. The confirmatory test to diagnose fatty liver disease is liver biopsy.
You can prevent fatty liver disease and its progression by changing your lifestyle. Limiting or avoiding alcohol consumption helps prevent fatty liver disease and its progression if the patient already has this condition. Avoid high-calorie foods and consume more plant-based foods, such as legumes, fruits, whole grains, and vegetables. Weight management is also a crucial aspect of fatty liver disease prevention.