Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty Liver Disease occurs when fat cells build up in your liver. This is concerning – because your liver performs over 500 functions that are essential for your health. A person needs a functioning liver to survive, and fat cells can cause inflammation and scarring that eventually lead to liver failure.
Your liver is your largest internal organ, and it processes waste materials from the body. It is about the size of a football and is located on top of the stomach, where it plays a key role in metabolic processes by filtering toxins out of your blood. Here are some of its key functions:
- Filtering out waste products in the form of bile
- Creating cholesterol
- Creates and stores extra glucose
- Reducing the harmful effects of toxins and removing them from the bloodstream
- Producing bile, which helps to break down fats and remove waste
You can think of your liver as being the manager of your body’s metabolic processes. It will direct what nutrients should be processed and stored, which ones should return to the body or be eliminated, and determine what vitamins and minerals the body needs.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
1 in 3 Australians now have fatty liver. While some fat is normal, fatty liver occurs when the proportion of fat takes up 10% of the total contents of the liver.
Fatty liver may initially cause no symptoms and no obvious damage. However, the fat can lead to an advanced stage called steatohepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can cause swelling and then scarring, which is referred to as cirrhosis. This scarring replaces healthy tissue which will impair the liver’s ability to function properly and can lead to liver failure.
Fatty liver disease does not cause immediate symptoms in most people, but symptoms may develop once the disease has progressed to the point that the liver has a lot of scarring (cirrhosis).
These are some of the symptoms that may develop later in the disease’s progression:
- A sense of fullness
- Pain or discomfort in the abdomen
- Jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and eyes
Causes and Risk Factors
The causes of fatty liver disease are often linked to lifestyle, and it is a frequent complaint in western countries with diets high in saturated fats. Fatty liver disease can be caused by:
- Eating too much food
- Excess weight
- Drinking alcohol excessively (this is a specific type of fatty liver disease, called alcoholic fatty liver disease)
- A diet high in saturated fats
- High blood sugar
- Type 2 diabetes
- Elevated cholesterol
- Elevated triglycerides
- A disease that may affect liver function, such as PCOS or hepatitis.
- Some pharmaceutical medicine or chemotherapy
- Rapid weight loss or malnutrition
- Metabolic syndrome
If you are concerned that you might be at a higher risk for fatty liver disease, you should discuss it with your doctor as soon as possible. Because the symptoms of fatty liver disease are often not immediately obvious, they might not be identified until tests are run for a different cause or your doctor checks for fatty liver disease.
There is no specific cure or medicine for fatty liver disease, and doctors often focus on prevention and addressing lifestyle factors to improve the condition if possible.
Sometimes medications for cholesterol or triglycerides (fat) in the blood may be used, but most often the lifestyle factors that are changed include:
- Weight loss
- A healthy diet low in saturated fat
- Address any diabetes or insulin resistance present
- Avoid anything that will stress the liver, such as drinking alcohol or taking potentially dangerous herbal remedies
- Lowering cholesterol
- Quitting smoking or vaping
Doctors may refer you to allied health specialists such as a dietician, exercise physiologist, or addiction counsellor as part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan.
How do you Test for Fatty Liver?
The test is a liver scan, at Moonee valley we use a fibro scan cause it looks at scarring and fat. Most only look at scarring. It is a non-invasive alternative to a biopsy. After the scan, Nicole will take the patient through their results and any action that they may need to take.
If your doctor notices signs of a fatty liver or would like to assess you for it, they may ask for blood tests that assess your liver function. They can also opt for a CT scan, MRI or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. To do a biopsy, the doctor will remove a small amount of tissue from the liver and examine it at a microscopic level to check for an abundance of fat cells.
At Moonee Valley Specialist Centre we offer a non-invasive and comprehensive liver scan. It uses an innovative device allied to the FibroScan 502 Touch Device, which can inspect your liver for signs of scarring or fatty deposits. It is similar to an ultrasound and can measure the stiffness of your liver, but it generates 2 scores rather than an image.
After you do the test, you will receive two scores. These are the CAP score, which measures the amount of fat in your kidney, and the second is the fibrosis score, which measures how stiff your liver is – this indicates the amount of scarring that might be present. These scores allow your doctor an insight into the condition of your liver, which supports them to prepare the best plan of action for treatment.
These liver scans do not require a referral from your doctor and take just 10 minutes. If you would like to learn more about this scan, call us on (03) 9372 0372 and we will be happy to answer your questions.
Learn more about this liver scan here.
How Moonee Valley Specialist Centre can help
Our empathetic and caring team can provide assessments, diagnosis, and management for Fatty Liver. Dr Nathan Connelly is experienced in helping patients with IBD, focusing on providing holistic care to each person.
You will be treated with respect and compassion as we support you with managing Fatty Liver.
*All information is general in nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.