How is Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?
How much do you know about your liver? Although there’s a general knowledge that it can help your body get rid of toxins, it’s important to actually understand the role it plays on your health, as well as conditions that may affect it. What, exactly, causes fatty liver disease? How is it diagnosed? And, is there anything you can do to prevent or control it?
What is the role of the liver?
The liver is the second largest organ in the body. Its function is to filter out toxins that end up in your system through chemicals, foods, and drinks — such as alcohol. It also stores energy from vitamins, carbohydrates, and sugars for energy. It also produces bile — a fluid that aids the body to digest food and absorb nutrients.
What is fatty liver disease?
When a liver is healthy, less than 10% of its weight is composed of fat cells. Certain conditions — such as being overweight, too much body fat around the abdomen, high cholesterol, Type II diabetes, or hypothyroidism — may cause this amount to increase. The excess fat on the liver results in decreased blood flow, inflammation, and scarring of this vital organ. In the most severe cases, it may result in cirrhosis or liver failure.
There are different types of fatty liver disease — non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). All of them are also known as hepatic steatosis.
Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms
Fatty liver disease often doesn’t show any symptoms. However, people with NASH experience the following:
- Abdominal pain
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Skin that looks yellow
- Red palms of the hands
- Blood vessels become visible
- Enlarged breasts in men
It’s also possible for people with NAFLD and ALFD to feel more tired than usual and/or discomfort on the upper right side of the abdomen. If the condition has progressed to cirrhosis, you’ll also experience swelling of the legs, itchy skin, confusion, and unintended weight loss.
Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosis
There are several ways to diagnose fatty liver disease. The most common include:
Going over your medical history
To diagnose fatty liver disease, your medical provider will ask detailed questions about your medical history, diet, and alcohol consumption.
Examination of the abdominal area
The doctor will also visually examine your abdomen to verify whether it’s enlarged, as well as press down on your abdomen to check for liver inflammation.
The liver has several enzymes — alanine transaminase (ALT), aspartate transaminase (AST), alkaline phosphatase (ALP), and gamma-glutamyl transpeptidase (GGT). Together, they speed up chemical reactions in the body. If your liver is inflamed, you’ll have elevated levels of these enzymes. This can be verified through blood work.
Excess fat on the liver can also be detected by imaging testing, such as a CT scan, MRI, or an abdominal ultrasound. The first two are conducted to capture detailed pictures of the liver, while the ultrasound utilizes sound waves to detect the size and shape of the organ.
This procedure is done by inserting a needle into your liver to remove tissue for further examination. Through a biopsy, your doctor can determine whether there’s excess fat or scarring on the liver. Prior to inserting the needle, you’ll get a local anesthetic to numb the area.
Fatty Liver Disease Treatment
Treating fatty liver disease requires long-term lifestyle changes, such as losing weight, reducing alcohol intake, eating healthy, and exercising. If you have complications, your doctor may also prescribe medication or recommend surgery.
If you believe you may have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, let us help you.
At Pinnacle Research, we specialize in the exploration of liver disease. We work with over 70 referring physicians in San Antonio and Austin, providing clinical trials in liver disease.
Contact us to discuss how we can help you.