Fatty liver disease is a condition characterized by a buildup of fat in the liver. It has two major subtypes: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD), which is also referred to as alcoholic steatohepatitis. NAFLD is incredibly common: it affects about 25% of the world’s population, and is rising with the rates of high cholesterol, obesity, and type 2 diabetes here in the United States. In fact, NAFLD is now the most common chronic liver disorder in the country.
Fatty liver disease is often asymptomatic in nature. Because of this, it’s frequently diagnosed after your doctor identifies abnormal results on liver tests they ordered for another reason. Your doctor may follow up these abnormal results with one or more of the following:
- A physical exam
- A liver biopsy
- Asking about your medical history
- Imaging and blood tests
But what causes fatty liver disease? The answer depends on what form of the disease you have.
If you have AFLD, your condition is caused by excessive alcohol usage. When you consume alcohol, your liver breaks down most of it so that it can be removed from your body. However, this process may produce harmful byproducts which can damage liver cells, weaken the body’s natural defenses, and promote inflammation. The more alcohol you consume, the more damage you inflict upon your liver. AFLD is considered the earliest stage of “alcohol-related liver disease,” the following stages of which are alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.
Experts haven’t yet pinned down the exact underlying cause(s) of NAFLD, but have pinpointed a handful of risk factors that increase your likelihood of developing it, such as:
- Rapid weight loss
- Previous exposure to specific toxins
- Certain infections, like hepatitis C
- Type 2 diabetes/prediabetes
- Being middle aged or older
- Being Hispanic or Caucasian (it’s less common in African Americans)
- Having high blood pressure
- Having certain metabolic disorders
- Having high amounts of cholesterol or triglycerides in your blood
- Taking certain cancer drugs or other medications, such as corticosteroids
An Ezra MRI scan could pick up fatty liver disease, depending on which you choose. If you’d like to learn more about our screening options, you may do so at the following link.