Overview of Fatty Liver
Gastroenterologists often see patients in consultation for abnormal liver function tests. Patients can be completely asymptomatic. Sometimes these abnormal liver numbers are picked up on yearly physical labs, or insurance physicals. One of the most common causes of abnormal liver function test is fat in the liver. Certainly, we know that alcohol puts fat in the liver. Some nonalcoholic reasons exist such as diabetes that is poorly controlled, hypercholesterolemia, or obesity. The problem is: fat can add up to scarring and scarring can add up to cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is a scarred liver that starts to fail to do its duties. The healthy liver should act as a filter for the blood that is capturing nutrients from our diet. In addition to absorbing nutritional elements of our diet, we also absorb the “not so good parts of our diet.” The liver is the first to see all these chemicals and substances. If your liver becomes scarred due to years of excess fat deposits, your liver can stop acting as a proper filter for toxins. This can lead to all kinds of problems. Additionally, a scarred liver, or a cirrhotic liver, can stop to make the essential proteins you need to survive.
Diagnosing Fatty Liver
In order to diagnose fatty liver or “NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease)”, other potential problems need to be ruled out. Approaching a patient with an abnormal liver function test usually includes more blood test to rule out things such as celiac disease, iron overload, viral hepatitis, thyroid disease, bile duct disease or autoimmune disease. Sometimes the gastroenterologist must be somewhat of a detective in getting a history of any medications or exposures that may have caused abnormal liver function tests. Proper radiologic imaging is also essential to sealing the diagnosis. At times, a liver biopsy is done to evaluate the cause of abnormal liver function tests as well as to assess the degree of scarring that may have already happened.
Prevention of Fatty Liver
What can we do to avoid fat in the liver? Well, usually it is just healthy living. If one is drinking excess alcohol, that needs to stop. If a diabetic’s blood sugars are poorly controlled, lowering their average blood sugar level is essential. If someone has had elevated cholesterol or triglycerides, that needs to be controlled. If the patient is overweight, the answer is obvious there: losing general fat will help to lose fat in the liver. The good news is that our livers are rather resilient and can regenerate and recover if we start to treat them right. The liver could be seen as the “barometer of your general health.” There have been a lot of clinical trials and studies looking into other medicinal and herbal preparations to help the body avoid fat deposits in the liver. Unfortunately, there is no “quick fix,” and a prescription for healthy living is often the admonishment. All the physicians at Columbia Gastroenterology Associates are well trained and experienced in approaching patients with fatty liver disease and multiple different liver problems.