NAFLD is an acronym for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease caused by the build-up of fat in the liver. When left untreated, this disease can cause permanent scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and potentially lead to liver cancer and liver failure.
Non-alcoholic fatty is the most common form of chronic liver disease in the United States, affecting about one-quarter of the population. Fortunately, you can avoid or even reverse this disease with lifestyle changes.
The only problem here is that people living with liver disease often show symptoms only after the disease is at an advanced stage, thus making it difficult to get proper treatment at an early age.
That said, this article will be covering some of the most commonly asked questions about NAFLD, such as What is NAFLD, what are some of the risk factors of NAFLD, and how can I prevent NAFLD?
What is Fatty Liver?
As one of the essential organs in the human body, the liver is largely responsible for several life-supporting functions in the body. It is tucked in the upper right abdomen directly under the ribs.
The liver performs over 500 functions that keep the body healthy, including digestion, energy conversion, storing iron, aiding blood clots, and eliminating bacteria and toxins. However, fat storage is not one of the liver’s many functions.
Now, this doesn’t mean that the liver would automatically stop functioning if it had fat in it. Ordinarily, the liver can handle small fat deposits, and it only becomes a cause of concern when it gets to a serious level, usually above 5%.
This is because excess fat can result in inflammation and advanced scarring of the liver. When this inflammation isn’t detected and treated early, it ultimately results in fatty liver disease.
Usually, excessive drinking of alcohol is the major cause of fat accumulation in the liver, and this type of fatty liver disease is alcohol-induced fatty liver disease.
On the other hand, people are more likely to develop the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if they have certain other health conditions, including obesity, diabetes, and high triglycerides.
Still, some people may develop the fatty liver disease even if they have none of these conditions.
Why is Having a Fatty Liver a Cause for Concern?
Before anything else, having high levels of fat in your liver sets you up for severe health problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and kidney disease.
Although it may not completely shut down your liver, if the quantity of fat progresses to a higher level, it could eventually lead to liver damage if not detected and managed properly.
NAFLD can progress to Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease. This progression takes three stages which are:
Stage 1: The Inflammation Stage
During this initial stage, the liver will continue to function properly until its function is compromised and the fat level exceeds 5%. And this increase will result in inflammation because the liver becomes bigger than usual.
Basically, inflammation occurs when the liver is repairing damaged tissues, and if the amount of damaged tissue increases, the liver may not have enough time to repair it as quickly as it normally should, thereby causing the inflamed tissue to remain scarred.
When scar tissue starts to develop, things escalate to the next stage, known as fibrosis.
Stage 2: Fibrosis
This happens when there is persistent scar tissue around the liver and in blood vessels surrounding the liver.
At this stage, the liver can still function fairly well. Also, removing or treating the underlying cause of the inflammation can prevent further damage or even reverse some of it.
Over time, if scar tissue begins to replace a lot of the normal liver tissue, the liver’s function will be completely compromised, leading to the next stage, Cirrhosis.
Stage 3: Cirrhosis
Years of inflammation cause cirrhosis, the most severe stage. At this point, the liver has been totally compromised and will stop working properly.
This is where common symptoms of liver problems start to appear, such as yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes and a dull ache in the lower right side of the ribs.
In cirrhosis, scar tissue can be difficult to remove, but addressing the cause of the injury can slow down the progression of the condition.
The vast majority of NAFLD patients have the early stage (simple fatty liver or steatosis), and only a very small number of patients develop the more serious stages. It can take several years for fibrosis or cirrhosis to develop.
Even though NAFLD does not cause symptoms in its early stages, it is important to always think about your liver health and make lifestyle choices to keep it healthy.
What Factors Are Responsible for NAFLD?
The fact is, in some rare cases, people develop fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions.
Although environmental factors and family history are potential causes that could trigger the disease, there is still a lot of unknown information regarding the cause of this disease.
Regardless, you could have an increased risk of NAFLD if you:
- Are obese or overweight, particularly around your waistline
- Are middle-aged or older (although children can also get it.)
- Have Hispanic or Asian heritage
- Have high blood pressure
- Smoke cigarettes
- Have type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
- Have high cholesterol
- Experience obstructive sleep apnea
- Have an underactive thyroid
- Have an underactive pituitary
- Are taking certain medications such as amiodarone, diltiazem, tamoxifen, steroids
- Have a hepatitis C infection
- Have abnormal amounts of fat in your blood, including high levels of triglycerides, high levels of “bad” cholesterol (LDL), and low levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL).
What Are Some Common Symptoms of NAFLD?
Since a fatty liver doesn’t produce any symptoms on its own, most people living with NAFLD also present no symptoms.
The only way you can get to know if you have a fatty liver is when you have medical tests. Other than this, you may only begin to notice symptoms as the disease progresses to cirrhosis of the liver.
These symptoms include:
- A feeling of fullness or pain on the right upper side of the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Extreme weight loss
- Swollen abdomen and legs
- Red palms
- Yellowish skin and whites of eyes (jaundice)
- Extreme tiredness or mental confusion
How is NAFLD Diagnosed?
As is recommended for several other diseases, an early diagnosis is extremely helpful in preventing and detecting life-threatening health conditions.
In the case of NAFLD, a disease that presents no apparent symptoms, you may not realize you have the disease until it gets worse.
However, by getting regular check-ups or scans, you will be able to detect and treat an abnormality on time.
If your doctor notices some abnormalities such as higher levels of liver enzymes or a slightly enlarged liver during a routine check-up, he or she will raise the alarm.
To further clarify, your doctor may then order a blood test, a liver biopsy, or an ultrasound/ CT.
Usually, a blood test is recommended, but most blood tests do not pick up NAFLD. This is why more people opt for ultra-scans to get a better idea of what’s going on inside.
At Craft Body scan, we specialize in preventative medicine and offer you a way to get a complete body diagnosis with our full-body scans. Essentially, a full-body scan allows for the best chance of early detection.
How Do You Treat NAFLD?
While the majority of people living with NAFLD do not develop any serious problems, if you have been diagnosed with the condition, it would be in your best interest to take action to prevent it from getting worse.
There’s currently no specific medication for NAFLD, but making healthy lifestyle choices can help.
Prioritizing a healthy lifestyle helps you control some of the risk factors contributing to NAFLD. Therefore, if you want to keep your liver healthy, some things you can do include the following:
- Clean up your diet: If you’ve been living on excess junk, sugar, and fries, it would be best to switch to a healthier diet of fruits, vegetables, limited sugar, and whole grains. This would help you lose weight and boost your health.
- Make efforts to lose weight: If you’re overweight or obese, you can try to lose 1-2 pounds per week by practicing mindful eating and working out. This would help you prevent the storage of excess fat in your liver.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol is one of the leading causes of liver fat disease. So, clean up your diet by swapping alcohol, caffeine, and sweet drinks for water. If you can’t cut it off, try reducing the quantity you consume regularly.
- Quit smoking: Giving up smoking can reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes
- Exercise regularly: You could aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as walking or cycling a week. All types of exercise can help reduce fat accumulation in your liver even if you do not lose weight.
- Take medications as prescribed: While there’s currently no known treatment for NAFLD, some medications can help manage the symptoms associated with the disease. For instance, your doctor may recommend medicine to treat high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
We advise that you keep up with your regular health check-ups with your doctor to ensure that your liver function is normal and to check for any changes.
Keeping Your Liver Healthy With Craft Body Scan
Here at Craft Body Scan, we prioritize preventative healthcare because we believe that taking care of your health starts with understanding your body, your current health, and any health risks that might warrant lifestyle changes or medical attention.
Although we currently do not offer exclusive liver scans, our full-body scans can help identify any potential health abnormalities that may cause future problems for you. By scheduling a scan with us, you are taking a proactive step towards becoming a healthier person and learning more about your body.
Are you interested in our full-body scan? Click the button below to schedule a call.