Fatty infiltration of the liver refers to the accumulation of fat in the liver cells. This condition if not taken care of in time may cause sever liver diseases. Scroll down to learn about the causes and identifying features of this liver condition.
The liver is a large glandular organ that performs various functions that are essential for the healthy functioning of the human body. The liver converts excess glucose into glycogen, which is converted into glucose for fulfilling the body’s energy needs.
The liver also aids in the production of certain proteins, especially the ones that help the blood to clot. It also synthesizes certain substances that are necessary for metabolism. For instance, the liver produces a digestive juice called bile. Bile plays an important role in the digestion of fats. Liver also facilitates the removal of chemicals, alcohol, drugs, or toxins from the body.
It also controls the levels of fats in the blood. Liver cells store fat, more specifically triglycerides in their cytoplasm. Triglycerides occupy 5% of the liver weight under normal conditions. The problem arises when the concentration of triglycerides exceeds the normal levels. This condition is known as fatty infiltration of liver. It is also called fatty liver, fatty metamorphosis, or steatosis of the liver.
Fatty infiltration could be diffuse or focal in nature. In case of diffuse fatty infiltration, there is an excessive accumulation of triglycerides in the entire liver. In case of focal fatty liver, only a part of the liver is affected and the infiltration of triglycerides is non-uniform. Focal fatty metamorphosis usually occurs in the liver tissue near to the fissure of the ligamentum teres and could be caused due to malabsorption of lipoproteins or a changed venous flow to the liver.
Fatty liver could be caused due to many reasons. However, the main reason behind the development of a fatty liver is an increase in the amount of fat transferred to the hepatic gland from the other parts of the body. It might be due to a reduction in the rate at which the liver breaks down and removes the fat. Any alteration in any of the steps followed by the liver for lipid metabolism can also lead to this liver disorder.
◉ Steatohepatitis or Fatty Liver Disease
Steatosis of the liver can become a cause of serious concern if the accumulation of fat leads to inflammation of the liver. Under such circumstances, one is diagnosed with steatohepatitis or fatty liver disease. It can be further divided into two types:
- Alcoholic Steatohepatitis: Alcohol abuse is one of the most common contributory factors for this liver condition. When accumulation of fat results from alcohol abuse, one is diagnosed with alcoholic steatohepatitis.
- Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis: When the accumulation of fat in the liver occurs due to factors other than alcoholism, one is said to suffer from non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. Obesity can put one at an increased risk of developing fatty liver disease. This disease may also be associated with malnutrition, starvation, rapid weight loss, abnormal levels of lipids in the blood, high blood pressure, or diabetes.
◉ Contributing Factors
Other factors that may lead to fatty infiltration of liver include:
- Long-term parenteral nutrition (intravenous administration of nutrients).
- Prolonged use of steroids or excessive endogenous production of steroids.
- Chemicals such as carbon tetrachloride and yellow phosphorus can also be responsible for causing steatosis of liver.
- Medical conditions such as HIV, Hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel syndrome, and hyperlipidemia are highly damaging for the liver.
Fatty infiltration of liver may or may not produce any symptoms. However, symptoms may appear when accumulation of fat in the liver leads to inflammation of the liver. Following are some of the most common symptoms.
- Slight pain in the upper quadrant region of the liver is a characteristic sign of fatty liver disease.
- Fatigue and malaise are other symptoms that may be experienced.
- At times, fatty liver disease may be accompanied by hepatomegaly (enlargement of the liver). This disease is also marked by an elevated level of enzymes such as transaminases and alkaline phosphatases.
- Sometimes, fatty liver could also bring about weight loss.
- If left untreated, scar tissues may form in the liver. Inadequate medical care and poor lifestyle can make one susceptible to a serious liver disease called liver cirrhosis.
If you have been experiencing a dull pain in the upper-right quadrant of the abdomen, it would be best to consult a hepatologist. Certain diagnostic tests and the imaging procedures would be ordered to confirm the diagnosis of fatty liver disease and determine the underlying cause. The findings from the images obtained through ultrasonography, computerized tomography or MRI can provide proof of fatty infiltration of the liver. Bright pattern, vascular blurring and deep attenuation are ultrasonic features that help in confirming the diagnosis of fatty liver through ultrasonography.
If the liver is brighter than the kidneys, it may be indicative of fatty liver. A decrement in average hepatic attenuation value is proportional to the degree of increase in the concentration of triglycerides in the liver. The attenuation value of liver is almost equal to that of spleen. Under healthy conditions, spleen has a higher value. There is a clear distinction among the intrahepatic blood vessels. This is so because the structures from the surrounding hepatic parenchyma, over-attenuate. The intrahepatic blood vessels run through their normal course, even through the affected region without any deformity. Once the diagnosis is confirmed, medical treatment would be administered depending on the underlying cause of fatty liver. Following are some of the ways which can help you to reverse fatty infiltration.
- First of all, people diagnosed with alcoholic fatty liver disease must quit drinking alcohol. It is one of the major causes of liver damage.
- One must also improve his dietary habits and reduce the intake of fatty foods. Include fresh leafy vegetables, lean meat, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products in your daily diet.
- Obese people should try their best to lose weight. Exercise is one of best things you can do to lose weight and attain a healthy body. People suffering from fatty liver problems can consult their doctor for a particular diet and other weight loss programs.
- Exercise daily for at least 30 minutes, this will not only keep your weight under control but will also provide you with other health benefits.
- Liver synthesis food and stores the sugar in the form of fat. Hence, it is very important to keep your sugar levels under control even if you are not diabetic. This will reduce the pressure on the liver, which will in turn lower the chances of liver problems.
On a concluding note, fatty infiltration of liver is reversible and many a time, does not require any treatment unless it interferes with the normal liver function. So, a healthy lifestyle would keep your liver healthy and disease-free. Following a healthy diet and an exercise regimen would certainly reduce the risk of fatty liver. Liver damage can even be drug-induced which is why diagnostic tests must be conducted for checking liver function in case of people who have been taking drugs for a long time.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.