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Cut Your Risk for Fatty Liver Disease

This condition, not related to drinking alcohol, also can lead to liver damage

Cut Your Risk for Fatty Liver Disease

Where does fat build up in your body? You’re probably thinking of your belly or thighs. But fat can also accumulate in your organs. When this happens in your liver, it’s called fatty liver disease.        

About 25 to 30 percent of adults in the U.S. have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). “In some cases, it damages the liver, which can lead to liver cancer or failure over time,” says family medicine physician Rebecca Odorizzi, DO, with LVPG Family Medicine–Hometown. “The condition also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.” A healthy lifestyle – and catching NAFLD early – may reduce your risks.

Meet your liver

“Your liver filters harmful substances from your blood,” Dr. Odorizzi says. “That’s why drinking alcohol is so hard on the organ – it has to strain out alcohol’s toxins.”

But NAFLD is not caused by alcohol. Experts don’t know exactly what leads to this disease, but it is more common in adults who are overweight, obese or have type 2 diabetes. Normally, the liver isn’t completely free from fat. But it’s officially fatty if fat makes up more than 5 to 10 percent of its weight.

NAFLD often has no symptoms. However, you might experience:

  • Fatigue
  • Fullness or pain in the middle or upper right side of your abdomen
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea     
  • Swelling in the belly
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes

“Your doctor or clinician can diagnose fatty liver disease with blood tests, imaging tests or a liver biopsy if you have symptoms or they think you are at high risk,” Dr. Odorizzi says.

Lifestyle changes offer hope

There are no medicines approved for NAFLD. Ways to treat liver damage include:

  • Exercising.
  • Eating less fat, especially saturated and trans fats.
  • Avoiding alcohol and beverages high in sugar.
  • Lowering your blood sugar, cholesterol and triglyceride levels, if they’re high.
  • Losing weight slowly, if needed. (Note: Quickly dropping more than 1 to 2 pounds per week may make the condition worse, causing liver inflammation and spurring progression to liver failure.)      
  • Switching medications if one you take is causing NAFLD. Always check with your doctor or clinician before changing or stopping any medicines.

These steps may also help prevent fatty liver disease if you don’t already have it. Once you’re diagnosed, your doctor or clinician may recommend that you see a liver specialist.

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