What causes fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease occurs in every age group but is more prominent in people over the age of 50 and it is becoming increasingly common around the world.
It is linked to a cluster of abnormalities including raised levels of abdominal fat, poor use of insulin and high blood levels of triglycerides, a type of fat.
Early symptoms are hard to spot but they can include fatigue, a dull or aching pain in the top right of the stomach, unexplained weight loss or weakness. The condition can develop into cirrhosis which will cause jaundice, itchy skin and swelling around the body.
Research is continuing into how some fatty livers develop inflammation and cirrhosis.
Fatty liver disease will often be picked up during an examination or consultation about another condition as the symptoms rarely manifest themselves until the liver has been seriously damaged.
A blood test and range of scans – ultrasound, CT and MRI – can show how the liver is functioning and levels of fat while a fibroscan, which uses sound waves to build up an image, can detect stiffness and scarring.
A hepatologist will also investigate enzyme activity and screen for coeliac disease.
The first line of treatment is a healthy diet and exercise regime to lose weight to reduce the risk factors. The aim is to get into the BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 and losing ten per cent of bodyweight will improve symptoms and the condition of the liver.
General advice about moderating alcohol and improving the quality of the diet are positive treatment steps and medication can be prescribed for the associated risk factors of high blood pressure, cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
There is no specific medication for non alcoholic fatty liver disease but several drugs are at advanced clinical trial stage.