The liver is responsible for a number of important functions like storing iron, making essential proteins, converting nutrients into energy, and helping your immune system. Unfortunately, it’s one of those organs that many people don’t think about until something goes wrong. One of those possible issues is fatty liver disease and the symptoms can be so stealthy, that it’s easy to miss that you have it.
What Exactly Is Fatty Liver Disease?
As the name suggests, fatty liver disease occurs when there’s too much fat in your liver. It’s normal for the liver to have a small quantity of fat, but once the amount heads in the 5-10% range, there are likely to be complications. These complications include inflammation, tissue damage, and the development of scar tissue.
The four stages of the disease are usually determined by the level of damage your doctor sees. For example, the first stage is called simple fatty liver and means that there’s a buildup of excess fat in the liver. By the fourth stage of cirrhosis, however, the liver is severely scarred and can no longer function.
The disease can also be categorized according to its cause. Alcohol-Related fatty liver disease (ALD) is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol and Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) doesn’t have an easily identified cause. However, if you have Hepatitis C, are overweight, or have Type 2 diabetes you’re more prone to develop NAFLD.
The Symptoms You Need To Know
Whether you have ALD or NAFLD, the symptoms are similar. Depending on the stage of the disease, you may experience nausea, fatigue, itchy skin, weight loss, dark-colored urine, and abdominal pain.
To be diagnosed with fatty liver disease, your doctor will conduct a physical exam and ask detailed questions about your medical history.
Blood tests to check on your liver enzymes will likely be next.
In some cases, you might need an ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to determine how much fat is being stored in your liver.
If your doctor is concerned about stage 3 or 4 fatty liver disease, you may also need a biopsy.
How The Disease Is Usually Treated
There is no set treatment plan for fatty liver disease but there are a few things your doctor will focus on. If your illness was caused by drinking alcohol excessively, you’ll need to stop drinking immediately. In the cases where people need professional help with this, they often recommend a medically observed detox.
Losing weight is another avenue that your doctor will explore. That usually includes a combination of exercising regularly and modifying your diet to keep the fat content low.
If you have other chronic illnesses such as diabetes or high blood pressure, you’ll need to manage them carefully.
In the worst-case scenario where your liver is too scarred to function, your doctor will recommend having a liver transplant. It’s important to ensure that you discuss everything that you’ll need to do to be eligible as well as what to expect during your recovery.
Why Blacks Should Be Concerned
According to recent studies, Blacks only have a 19% chance of developing fatty liver disease. While that should be good news, the numbers show that Black people are still more likely to be hospitalized and die from the disease.
Several factors may contribute to these outcomes, but you should know that some doctors don’t diagnose Black people with fatty liver disease as readily as they should. That’s why it’s so important for you to know the symptoms and be outspoken about changes in your health.
Fatty liver disease might not affect a large percentage of the Black population but the outcome can be dire for those that develop it. If you’re having any symptoms that suggest there’s something wrong with your liver, make sure to talk to your doctor as soon as possible so you can get assessed.