The liver is the one of the largest and functionally diverse organs of the human body. Its importance can be gauged from the fact that the human liver performs over 500 essential functions. Some of the most important functions include production of bile, digestion and metabolism of food, elimination of toxins, and protein synthesis. Apart from aiding the storage of vitamins and minerals, the liver also aids the metabolism of sugars and helps the body in fending off infections. Liver damage often occurs due to diseases or poor lifestyle choices such as alcoholism. Liver failure could be potentially life threatening, making awareness of preventable liver disease an important aspect of health management.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
It is natural for a small amount of fat to accumulate in the liver. This is a result of the natural metabolic process and is known as hepatic steatosis. When such fat accumulates in higher amounts it leads to a condition referred to as fatty liver. Excess consumption of alcohol over a prolonged period of time causes increased fat deposits in the liver (Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease- AFLD). Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is often a result of unhealthy lifestyle choices including improper nutrition and inadequate physical activity. Recent studies suggest that genetic conditions could predispose an individual to diabetes and NAFLD with hypertension and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol levels).
Implications of NAFLD
NAFLD starts as simple fatty deposits in the liver and could lead up to liver cancer. Fatty liver is graded as Grade I, Grade II, and Grade III. Grade I constitutes simple build-up of fats in the liver or steatosis. Grade II is fatty deposits combined with inflammation of the liver or lobular inflammation along with ballooned hepatocytes. Grade III indicates the presence of fibrosis along with lobular inflammation and ballooned hepatocytes.
If left untreated, this could lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and ultimately hepatocellular carcinoma or liver cancer.
Why is NAFLD a silent epidemic?
For a very long time, viral diseases such as Hepatitis C have been in focus when it comes to liver ailments. NAFLD is, however, currently being considered the most common chronic liver disease across the globe. The reason NAFLD is considered a silent pandemic is because of the alarming rise in its incidence worldwide. Another reason why NAFLD is the cause for much concern is that people with the condition, often do not exhibit any significant symptoms until the disease progresses to a higher grade or ends up in irreversible liver damage. Most patients suffering from NAFLD present with fatigue, general malaise, digestive discomfort, and discomfort in the abdominal region. Fatty liver is usually diagnosed through imaging studies such as ultrasonography or fibroscan. Leading liver treatment hospitals in India are witnessing a considerable increase in need for liver transplant procedures due to NAFLD.
Preventing and reversing NAFLD
NAFLD is one of the easily preventable diseases. If caught early, NAFLD can be easily reversed. The early stages of fatty liver are ideal for reversal of the condition. When a fatty liver is detected on routine or incidental screening, it is best to consult a hepatologist. A healthy and balanced diet, increasing levels of physical activity and medicines can be used to reverse or at least arrest the progression of liver disease. Reversal will also include management of allied diseases such as diabetes and dyslipidaemia.
Some cases of liver failure can be treated by undertaking a liver transplant at one of the best liver transplant hospitals in India like CARE Hospitals. A matching donor liver from a live or deceased donor is used for the transplant. This is a major surgery and requires to be undertaken by an expert transplant surgeon.