Fatty liver is the accumulation of excessive fat in the liver. Normal liver contain less than 5% of fat as triglycerides. More fat in liver predisposes one to have progressive damage to liver. Inflammation to the liver is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) disease leading to fibrosis, cirrhosis and liver failure. Here are some myths and facts associated with fatty liver.
Myth: Only obese people have fatty liver
Fact: While obese people are at greater risk for fatty liver disease, but even lean persons can have fatty liver. Even some medications, alcohol use, infection some genetic and metabolic diseases can cause fatty liver.
Myth: If your liver functions are normal, you needn’t worry
Fact: Liver functions and sonography will diagnose when there is advanced liver damage and failure. But they are not good at picking up NASH or liver fibrosis. A damaged liver can have normal values.
Myth: Fatty liver is a simple problem
Fact: Fatty liver is complex issue and indicates wider metabolic derangements, which may include the heart, blood pressure, diabetes, kidney, sleep apnea, cancer, etc. along with risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. About 30% have progressive illness of the liver.
Myth: Occasional alcohol is allowed even if you have fatty liver
Fact: Alcohol is a liver toxin. There is no safe limit of alcohol in fatty liver. Alcohol consumption is not advisable if you want keep your liver healthy. Even a little amount can accelerate the damage.
Myth: No need to see a specialist for fatty liver
Fact: It is a complex issue and needs to be assessed by specialist such as a Gastroenterologist or Hepatologist. They will carry out proper evaluation and tests which can quantify liver fat and fibrosis to assess the damage. They will might prescribe certain medications with utmost diligence and ask you to make some lifestyle changes like eating proper food, exercising among other things. They will monitor you from time to time, and might also recommend liver transplant if the need arises.
(The writer is Sr Consultant – Hepatologist, Department of Hepatology at Global Hospitals, Mumbai)