What is a fatty liver?

A fatty liver, medically known as “hepatic steatosis,” is a condition characterized by an abnormal accumulation of fat within liver cells. This excess fat can interfere with the normal functioning of the liver. There are two main types of fatty liver:

  1. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): This is the most common form of fatty liver and occurs in people who do not consume excessive amounts of alcohol. NAFLD is often associated with underlying health conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes.
    • Simple Fatty Liver (Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver, or NAFL): In this milder form of NAFLD, fat accumulates in the liver, but there is little to no inflammation or liver cell damage. It often doesn’t cause symptoms but can progress to more severe forms.
    • Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): NASH is a more serious form of NAFLD characterized by not only fat accumulation but also inflammation and liver cell damage. It can lead to fibrosis (scarring) of the liver and, eventually, cirrhosis if left untreated.
  2. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD): This condition is caused by excessive alcohol consumption. It results from the liver’s attempt to process and metabolize alcohol, leading to the accumulation of fat in liver cells. AFLD is reversible if alcohol consumption is reduced or eliminated.

Fatty liver is often considered a silent condition because it may not cause noticeable symptoms in its early stages. However, as it progresses, symptoms and complications may develop, such as fatigue, abdominal discomfort, unexplained weight loss, and liver-related issues. Severe cases of fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and an increased risk of liver cancer.

Diagnosis typically involves a combination of medical history, physical examination, blood tests, and imaging studies like ultrasound or MRI. The treatment and management of fatty liver depend on its underlying cause. Lifestyle modifications, including weight loss, dietary changes, regular exercise, and limiting alcohol consumption, are often recommended to address fatty liver and reduce the risk of complications. In some cases, medications or other medical interventions may be prescribed based on the severity of the condition and the presence of related health issues.

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