We all know obesity is a major health problem worldwide. Obesity increases the risk of several chronic diseases including a form of liver disease called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Obesity is defined as an excess amount of body fat. The normal amount of body fat (expressed as a percentage of body weight) is between 25-30% in women and 18-23% in men. Women with over 30% body fat and men with over 25% body fat are considered obese.
These excess fat in the body results in the accumulation of fat in the liver, also known as steatosis. In other words, fatty liver. NAFLD refers to a wide spectrum of liver disease ranging from fatty liver to cirrhosis – advanced scarring of the liver.
The term nonalcoholic is used because liver disease due to alcohol can show the same spectrum of liver disease as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; however, patients with NAFLD do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol.
Diagnosis is a challenge
Because fatty liver disease often has no symptoms, your doctor may be the first one to spot it. Medical guidelines recommend that persons with obesity should be routinely scanned for NAFLD. It can be diagnosed by ultrasound, blood test or liver biopsy (to assess fibrosis).
As said, it has often no symptoms hence only occasionally do people feel run-down, or they have an achy feeling in the upper right side of the abdomen, where the liver is located. So, more often than not, fatty liver disease is discovered incidentally.
How is NAFLD treated?
There’s no medication specifically for fatty liver disease. Instead, doctors focus on helping you control factors that contribute to the condition. It varies by the stage of progression.
All current treatment guidelines recommend losing excess weight as the cornerstone. In many cases, weight loss seems to have a very direct effect: as people lose weight, the fatty liver becomes less fatty.
Apart from making lifestyle changes to reduce the weight and improve your health, several other treatments include:
- Avoiding alcohol.
- Losing weight.
- Taking medications to control diabetes, cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood).
- Taking vitamin E and thiazolidinediones (drugs used to treat diabetes) in specific instances.
The final say on obesity and fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Many body parts suffer when people become obese or develops diabetes. There’s some evidence that a fatty liver disease may add risk of heart disease. So here are two bright spots in the take-home message about fatty livers:
- Stay at a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, lose weight gradually.
- Exercise regularly.
For the best outcome, it’s important to contact gastroenterologist and follow recommended treatment plan and practice an overall healthy lifestyle.