Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a broad term for various liver conditions. It’s caused by the build-up of fat in the liver cells, and if the disease progresses, it’s characterized by liver inflammation, fibrosis, and cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is NAFLD’s final, irreversible stage that could lead to liver failure. A healthy liver shouldn’t contain any fats or very small amounts of it. The early stages of NAFLD do not usually cause any harm; however, if left untreated, it can worsen.
Here are the common causes of NAFLD and liver damage. Make sure to follow through to learn more about the prevention measures and whether you are at risk of developing a fatty liver.
Disclaimer – the signs and symptoms described below do not necessarily mean you have the disease, but it’s worth checking up with a healthcare provider!
Stages Of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
NAFLD develops in four stages. While most people will develop only the early stages of fatty liver disease, in other cases, the disease might progress to liver damage if not managed properly.
The stages are:
- Steatosis – also called simple fatty liver due to the harmless amount of fats deposited in the liver cells;
- NASH – non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, a more serious form of NAFLD where the liver is inflamed;
- Fibrosis – scar tissue and persistent liver inflammation;
- Cirrhosis – occurs after years of liver inflammation that was not treated on time, so the liver shrinks and becomes lumpy.
The signs of NASH include a dull aching pain in the right upper abdomen, fatigue, weakness, unexplained weight loss, etc., if the disease is in the early stages. If you’re struggling with a more advanced condition, then symptoms like jaundice, red palms, spider-web-like vessels, swelling in the feet and legs, pruritus or itchy skin, hair loss, swelling in the abdomen or known as ascites, muscle wasting, vomiting, etc. occur.
Furthermore, you may notice changes in your sleeping habits, black stools, confusion, and difficulty concentrating.
Copyright: National Cancer Institute on Unsplash I License: CC0 Public Domain
Common Risk Factors
The liver is an organ that has many functions, including converting nutrients, eliminating toxins, making bile, breaking down fats, and much more. The director of Johns Hopkins Medicine says that you shouldn’t wait for any signs or symptoms to appear so you can ask for help. You might be at increased risk without even knowing it.
You can be at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if you have conditions like type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, you are obese, are a smoker, etc.
Top risk factors to consider:
- Exposure to toxins – the liver is responsible for eliminating the toxins from your body; however, overexposure to it can lead to irreversible damage. If you are working in an environment where harmful and hazardous substances are present, you need to be extra careful and take the required measures to stay protected; read the labels of the products you use around the house and make sure to wash the vegetables and fruits properly;
- Alcohol abuse – while heavy alcohol consumption causes alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and eventually liver cancer, by the time you develop symptoms, the liver will be severely damaged;
- Be aware of harmful supplements – many supplements are labeled as “natural”; however, most of them have been associated with liver damage. According to Dr. Alqahtani, 20% of liver damage is caused by herbs. Do not trust blindly everyone who says alternative herbs and supplements can help you; consult your doctor before you take any medicine;
- History of liver disease – if you or a family member has experienced any type of liver disease, you might be increasingly vulnerable to it; for example, hemochromatosis, hepatitis B and C are risk factors for liver cancer; watch out for any symptoms that are leading towards liver disease!
- Obesity – this is one of the main risk factors associated with NAFLD; it can lead to cirrhosis as well, but if the person is already at the stage of NAFLD, the damage can be reversed by cutting off the sugar and bread and eating more vegetables and fruits.
Diagnosis And Prevention
NAFLD is diagnosed via a liver function test, a blood test that examines the levels of enzymes produced by the liver. Additional tests that might be used in the diagnosis are an ultrasound scan of the abdomen, a fibroscan, CT, or a liver biopsy.
Most people with NAFLD don’t progress beyond the early stage of the disease. But, if you got the diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, it’s time to ask for help and improve your lifestyle. There are no specific medicines for treating NAFLD, but you can eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly, stop smoking, etc.
Talk With Your Doctor
So, if you’ve been wondering whether you are at risk of developing NAFLD or you are already in the early stages of it, do not wait to get any symptoms and then look for help. Talk with your healthcare provider and check any of the symptoms you might have!