Fatty liver disease is exactly what it sounds like: the build-up of fat in the liver. It’s the most common liver disease in the world, affecting both adults and children. The condition increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease, so it should definitely be on your radar. What’s worse is that fatty liver disease is often a silent condition! So how do you keep tabs on it?
For the most part, you won’t know without a blood test. An abnormal liver function is a red flag that something is up. If so, your doctor will have more specific tests done. But that doesn’t mean symptoms will never develop. In some cases, the body might act up in strange ways. Don’t avoid these signs, especially if you’re at risk for fatty liver disease.1
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
When fat accumulates in the liver, fatty liver disease develops. There are two main types.
1. Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Also known as alcoholic steatohepatitis, this type of fatty liver only affects heavy drinkers. After all, the liver is in charge of breaking down alcohol. But since the process produces dangerous toxins, it can cause significant damage over time. For heavy drinkers who are women and/or obese, the risk is even higher.2 3
2. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
NAFLD is more common in people who have type 2 diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. Losing weight really fast may also be a risk factor. In some cases, toxin exposure and medication might be the reason.4
What Are The Symptoms?
Again, fatty liver disease doesn’t usually cause symptoms. Any signs that do develop may include the following.
1. Abdominal Discomfort
With fatty liver disease, location is the most important part. Discomfort and pain will hover around the upper right portion of your abdomen.Does this sound familiar? Be sure to mention it to your doctor.5
Tiredness and fatigue may show up. Yet, this can be hard to notice, especially if you work long hours or have small kids. Pay attention to how you feel after a full night of rest.6
If fatigue worsens, weakness is likely. Plus, the liver is under a lot of stress! You might have a hard time doing normal, daily activities.
If the disease has progressed to cirrhosis, jaundice might develop. This condition makes your skin and whites of your eyes turn yellow. However, this symptom is uncommon for people with fatty liver disease, especially in the early stages.7
5. Dark Urine
Dark urine is another red flag. It may be a sign that the disease has turned into hepatitis or cirrhosis. But like jaundice, know that dark urine is an uncommon symptom. Even slight discoloration can be easily overlooked.8
Because the signs of fatty liver disease can be mild or totally absent, it’s important to keep up with regular check-ups. A standard physical exam will include a liver function blood test. If the measurement is abnormal, an imaging test or biopsy might be on the agenda.
|↑1||Assy, Nimer. “Nutritional recommendations for patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases.” World journal of gastroenterology: WJG 17, no. 29 (2011): 3375.|
|↑2||Wang, H. Joe, Bin Gao, Samir Zakhari, and Laura E. Nagy. “Inflammation in alcoholic liver disease.” Annual review of nutrition 32 (2012): 343-368.|
|↑3, ↑4, ↑5||Fatty Liver Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Disease.|
|↑6||NAFLD. American Liver Foundation.|
|↑7, ↑8||Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver. LiverTox, National Institutes of Health.|