Is your liver healthy?
We all know what weight gain looks like on the outside – sometimes when looking in a mirror after a long winter. But not everyone knows the dangers of weight gain that happens inside, specifically in and near vital organs, called subcutaneous fat.
When too much fat builds up around the liver, it is known as Fatty Liver Disease, which is a dangerous but preventable and reversible issue.
“The liver normally contains some fat in a healthy body, but it becomes a ‘fatty liver’ if more than 5- to 10-percent of its weight is made up of fat,” says Dr. Brett Leiknes, family medicine physician at Aurora Health Center in Manitowoc, Wis. “It’s not exactly clear why or how fat accumulates in the liver, but there are strong and obvious ties to obesity and type 2 diabetes.”
The excess fat in the liver cells can lead to inflammation in the organ, also known as hepatitis. Left unaddressed, it can cause irreparable damage.
What are the symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease? While it often goes undetected, Dr. Leiknes offers some things to watch for:
- Weight loss
- Appetite loss
- Swelling of the legs
- Yellow skin and eyes
- Abdominal pain
- Itchy skin
There are two types of Fatty Liver Disease – Alcohol-Related and Nonalcoholic.
This is an umbrella term for a range of conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol, yet experience symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease. Under that umbrella are two sub-types: nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and simple fatty liver.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis has become a common affliction across the world, affecting as many as a quarter of people across the world and in the U.S. particularly. If untreated, it can cause scarring of the liver, cirrhosis, liver cancer and an increased risk heart attack and stroke.
Researchers have found strong links to obesity and type 2 diabetes, or more generally the inability to process insulin, to be large risk factors and can affect people of all ages, particularly present in the Hispanic patient population.
Conversely, simple fatty liver is when a patient has excess fat in their liver with none of the inflammation or cell damage. The simple type generally does not progress to cause liver damage or further complications.
While having similar effects, this version of fatty liver is caused by even just a few days of excess or heavy alcohol use. People mostly know the liver’s role in filtering toxins like alcohol, but it also aids in digestion, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol and more.
As the liver breaks down alcohol, the process can generate harmful substances that can in turn damage liver cells, promote inflammation and weaken the organ and other parts of your body. This process can additionally lead to a build-up of fats in the organ.
“Fatty liver disease, no matter what causes it, is often caught when screening for other issues” says Dr. Leiknes. “That’s why it is so important to be open with your physician about your lifestyle and get regular check-ups.”
Luckily, fatty liver of both types can generally be reversed before they worsen with an improved healthy diet, cutting down on alcohol consumption and weight loss and exercise. Regularly scheduled vaccinations for heptatitis A or B and the flu, all of which cause inflammation, can help prevent fatty liver or avoid the condition worsening to hepatitis or cirrhosis.
If you have Fatty Liver Disease, influenza could make the condition worse and even lead to problems with other organs in your body. The good news is that there is a vaccine for the flu. You shouldn’t let COVID-19 keep you from seeking the health care you need, including getting routine immunizations and the influenza vaccine. Read how Advocate Aurora Health is taking additional steps to keep you safe with its Safe Care Promise.
About the Author
Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.