Fatty Liver Disease

Diseases are regularly discovered. Sometimes, collections of symptoms that had been observed separately for years, even decades, are at long last recognized as all being related, as being part of a single condition. In other cases, particularly with lifestyle-related diseases, conditions that had once been rare become common.

An example of the latter is some types of cancer, common in old age, are a paradoxical result of improved healthcare, since people who in earlier generations might have died young (by contemporary standards) are able to live long enough to develop the cancer. Another example of a lifestyle condition becoming more common is what is known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: as obesity strikes more and more Americans, NAFLD affects fully a quarter of the population.

The effects of excessive alcohol consumption on the liver are well known. Sometimes—indeed, increasingly—similar effects occur in people who don’t drink heavily, or sometimes at all. However, though drinking is not associated with NAFLD, metabolic syndrome, a prediabetic condition that can result from with obesity, is.

However, fatty liver disease is also not infrequently found in patients who are not obese, and an exact trigger is difficult to determine. The immediate cause of the condition is an interruption in the liver’s ability to break down lipids. As a result, fat builds up around the tissue. Though this is often harmless, it can cause inflammation, and it is currently the leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States.

Though even inflammation is often asymptomatic—one reason the condition can be difficult to detect—sometimes symptoms do appear. In particular, patients often report fatigue and weight loss, and a less common symptom of pain in the upper right area of the abdomen. There is no treatment yet for NAFLD, but weight loss and other lifestyle changes can help ameliorate these symptoms.

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