It’s common for those who love to party all night, drinking lots of alcohol in the process, to tell themselves that they are merely postponing taking care of their health. However, all that alcohol they’ve drunk or fatty food they’ve eaten does not only result in excess weight. It can also lead to fatty liver disease, a major cause of liver cirrhosis, which has the potential to eventually cause liver cancer.
Fatty liver disease refers to the accumulation of fat within the liver cells, measuring over 5-10% of the liver’s total weight. This results in the fibrosis being formed which destroys liver cells or causes liver inflammation, eventually leading to liver cirrhosis. Furthermore, when left untreated, such a condition can cause liver cancer, an incurable condition which may only be managed through reducing the amount of fat present in the liver.
Alcohol-related fatty liver disease: Drinking large amounts of alcohol or drinking constantly over a long period of time can result in reduced liver function and the accumulation of fat within its cells. The severity of the condition depends on the type, quantity and period of time over which the alcohol is consumed.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: This condition refers to excess fat accumulating in the body or irregular metabolism due to some forms of congenital health disorders, such as diabetes, high blood lipid levels, high blood pressure and hepatitis C.
Feeling exhausted and disoriented after partying too hard is always a risk. However, if other symptoms present themselves, it could be a sign that your partying is leading to fatty liver disease. In this case, medical attention should be sought immediately for a detailed diagnosis. The following symptoms are warning signs for the onset of this condition:
Feeling exhausted, overly tired or powerless: You may experience these symptoms despite not having partied for a few days, resulting in you not wanting to go into work, or feeling exhausted for no apparent reason.
Nausea and stomach discomfort while some people experience a tightness in the lower right-hand side of the rib cage: Many will see the aforementioned symptoms as a completely normal part of the after party come-down due to the overconsumption of food and alcohol. Nevertheless, such symptoms should go away after 1–2 days. Therefore, you should consult your doctor in order to undergo a thorough diagnosis if these symptoms last longer than usual.
Loss of appetite or sudden weight loss: Experiencing a loss of appetite, despite being a person who normally loves to eat, may mean that there could be an irregularity affecting your body.
Reduced concentration span and decreased ability to make decisions: Fatty liver disease can cause the sufferer to feel dizzy, lack concentration and experience a decreased ability to make decisions.
Changes to the color of urine and feces: Decreased liver function can result in the body’s waste products not being flushed out effectively, which can cause urine to take on a dark, yellow color or result in discoloration of fecal matter.
Jaundice: When the body is unable to properly flush out a yellow colored chemical called bilirubin it can lead to the sufferer taking on a yellowish tone in the skin and eyes.
Fatty liver disease warning signs can be observed by the sufferers themselves. However, if you are feeling unsure, you should seek medical attention to undergo a full body checkup. This will help you find out whether you are suffering from the condition and, if necessary, give you details about which stage the disease has reached.
Stage 1: Fat has begun to accumulate in liver tissue, but there is not yet any inflammation or fibrosis present. At this stage there are not likely to be any symptoms whatsoever.
Stage 2: The liver starts to become inflamed and a liver assessment would find abnormalities in liver function, although the patient may not yet be experiencing any symptoms. Nonetheless, if medical attention is not sought at this point and the condition is left untreated for over six months, it could result in chronic liver inflammation.
Stage 3: When the liver is severely inflamed, the cells present will gradually be destroyed until the fibrosis and the liver will be unable to function properly. At this stage, any treatment will only be able to prevent further inflammation and an increase in fibrosis size.
Stage 4: Liver cells have been destroyed to such an extent that the liver is unable to function properly. Patients will suffer a yellowing of the skin and eyes, while the condition will advance to the liver cirrhosis stage and eventually the onset of liver cancer.
Aside from the initial diagnosis stages of fatty liver disease, observations can be made by feeling for any abnormalities in the abdomen area, as well as enquiring into the patient’s history of alcohol consumption, use of medication and any chronic health disorders. Doctors may also send patients for an additional FibroScan assessment.
FibroScan technology is utilized in the diagnosis of fatty liver disease and liver fibrosis growth. The method relies on sound waves being directed at the liver and measuring the response times, thereby providing an analysis of the amount of fat stored there, the liver stiffness or the extent to which fibrosis is affecting the liver tissue. In addition, the procedure can offer a clear assessment of the severity of any liver condition that could potentially result in liver cirrhosis. FibroScan is also able to monitor the progress of any treatment being undertaken.
The screening takes a short amount of time and only requires patients to fast from liquids and solids for three hours prior to the scan. A FibroScan does not require a hospital stay and the highly accurate results are available immediately. Moreover, the procedure is painless, thereby reducing any anxiety a patient may have about complications arising from such an assessment.
In addition to considering appropriate medication for each individual case, treatment for fatty liver disease generally emphasizes patients making healthcare as well as lifestyle adjustments. This may be in terms of their diet, such as making sure to eat healthy, balanced meals while avoiding food or fruits that are high in sugar or fats, alongside giving up alcohol. Additionally, regular exercise could be recommended, for example, getting at least 150–200 minutes of exercise a week.
With regard to diabetic patients, those with high blood lipid levels or people with high blood pressure, careful management of their condition is required, both in terms of taking medication as prescribed as well as acting according to their doctor’s directions. Furthermore, these groups should also be controlling their diet appropriately and getting plenty of exercise to ensure mental and physical wellbeing.
If you are going to a party, meet up with friends or just love the feeling of being at a party with those you love, be sure to prepare yourself properly in order to avoid becoming the victim of fatty liver disease.
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Faculty of Medicine Siriraj Hospital, Mahidol University , 2009