What is fatty liver
Fatty liver disease is a condition caused by a build-up of fat in liver cells. It is normal for the liver to contain some fat but if fat makes up more than 10% of the liver’s weight, it is called fatty liver. It is quite common – about one in four Australians has fatty liver. The good news is if fatty liver is diagnosed by your doctor early, it can be reversed.
There are no obvious symptoms or pain associated with fatty liver, so it can go undetected or undiagnosed for years. However it can lead to serious liver conditions, so prevention and early intervention are recommended.
Fatty liver can be caused by drinking too much alcohol over long periods. However, most people with Fatty Liver have ‘non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’ (NAFLD), which is not caused by alcohol.
It is more common in people who:
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol and high triglycerides
- Have type 2 diabetes or are likely to develop it
- Are overweight, especially around the abdomen.
A few people have fatty liver due to other diseases, such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), an underactive thyroid, chronic hepatitis B, chronic hepatitis C or haemochromatosis (a genetic abnormality of iron storage), or reactions to drugs such as kava or medicines such as steroids or chemotherapy.
Some women can also develop fatty liver because of complications that develop late in pregnancy.
While Fatty Liver Disease typically occurs in people who are overweight, it is important to remember that it can affect anyone, regardless of shape or size.
Management and prevention
There are no specific drug or surgical treatments for Fatty Liver Disease such as NAFLD (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) and NASH (Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis).
However, lifestyle changes can help prevent and reverse some of the damage. For example:
- Leading an active lifestyle and engaging in daily exercise is a great way to improve your overall health. Sedentary lifestyles are a known risk factor to the development and progression of liver disease.
- Increase your physical activity and aim to participate in aerobic and resistance exercise. This could be a brisk half-hour walk and low-impact weight training
- Aim to eat a balanced, healthy diet, high in fibre. Doctors or dieticians can devise a well-balanced, nutritious healthy eating plan just for you
- Lower your triglycerides (fat in the blood) through a balanced diet, and/or prescribed medication
- Manage any diagnoses of diabetes
- Avoid/reduce the amount of alcohol consumed
- Stop smoking
- It’s important to be aware of how stress levels can impact your health. Spending time outside, relaxing, walking and gardening can all help.
- Seek help from a professional or reach out to loved ones if you need to
- Only take drugs prescribed by your doctor
- Get regular check-ups from a doctor with expertise in liver care.