When you’re overweight, you know it — your body bulges, your clothes get tight, and the scale starts groaning. But did you know that your organs can also develop a weight problem? Specifically, your liver can build up fat and become enlarged.
This is called fatty liver disease, which can affect your liver functions. Over time, it can damage your liver.
Dr. Ayub Hussain, our board-certified specialist at Northside Gastroenterology Associates in Houston and Cypress, Texas, is one of the area’s leading gastroenterologists with many years of experience diagnosing and treating fatty liver disease. Here, he explains what you need to know about this condition and how we treat it.
Fatty liver disease types and symptoms
Your liver produces bile, an acidic substance that aids digestion. It also makes proteins, converts food into energy, stores iron, and creates immune factors that help you resist infections.
If too much fat builds up in your liver, it can’t function properly. Mild fattiness doesn’t cause a problem, but if the fat exceeds 5%-10% of your liver’s weight, your liver may become swollen (steatohepatitis), damaged (fibrosis), or scarred (cirrhosis). There are two main types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic and nonalcoholic.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease
Normally, your liver breaks down alcohol and flushes it out of your system, but excess alcohol consumption overpowers your liver, and the alcohol stays in your body. As your liver continues to try to break it down, it produces harmful chemicals that damage its own cells. Untreated, alcoholic fatty liver disease can progress to alcohol-related liver disease, acute hepatitis, and cirrhosis.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
You can develop fatty liver disease even if you don’t misuse alcohol. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs in two forms.
Simple fatty liver disease means you have fat buildup in your liver but haven’t sustained liver damage and show no signs of liver enlargement or inflammation.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis involves inflammation and liver cell damage, which can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Fatty liver disease symptoms
Many people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms, but those who do may experience the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Yellow-tinged skin
- Yellowed eye whites
- Mental confusion
The presence of these symptoms warrants an immediate visit to see Dr. Hussain.
Are you at risk for fatty liver disease?
Heavy drinking puts you in danger of developing alcoholic fatty liver disease, but what puts you at risk for NAFLD? While the cause of NAFLD is unknown, the common risk factors include the following:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol and triglycerides
- Corticosteroid use
- Metabolic syndrome
- Hepatitis C
About one-quarter of the world’s population and one-third of the United States population has NAFLD, which affects Hispanics and Whites more than others. It also appears more often among middle-aged folks, even children, although anyone can get it at any age.
Do you have fatty liver disease?
If you’re at risk for fatty liver disease, you should get checked, even if you have no symptoms, because early detection enables early treatment and a better chance of survival.
Dr. Hussain can check your liver quickly and painlessly with the advanced ultrasound technology in FibroScan®. This noninvasive procedure takes about 10 minutes; we simply place a small measuring device on the right side of your ribcage. The results are ready immediately, allowing Dr. Hussain to determine your liver’s fattiness and stiffness.
If you have a fatty liver, weight loss can reduce fat, inflammation, and fibrosis. If Dr. Hussain identifies the underlying cause, such as certain medications, hepatitis, or diabetes, he treats those issues to help resolve your fatty liver disease before it progresses.
Contact us online or by phone to schedule an appointment with Dr. Hussain and save your liver.