Alcoholic Vs Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver

Fatty Liver Disease

The presence of some amount of fat is par for the course in a healthy liver. However, accumulation of extra fat is harmful for the liver and is referred to as fatty liver disease or hepatic steatosis. While alcoholic liver disease (ALD) is brought on by consumption of alcohol, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is not caused by alcohol. Both ALD and NAFLD are major health issues globally.

While the trigger for ALD is heavy drinking, NAFLD is often caused by conditions like diabetes or pre-diabetes, high lipids count or hypertension. Both the diseases can often exist silently without the patients manifesting any symptoms and can have very similar pathological progression, sometimes leading to more serious disease like steatohepatitis, liver cirrhosis or even liver cancer. Both the liver diseases can also have extra-hepatic complications, including heart disease and cancer.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has two types:

  • Simple fatty liver: This is the more common type, which entails presence of fat in the liver without any inflammation or cell damage. It doesn’t normally get worse and turn into a serious condition.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH: Afflicting nearly one-fifth of those having NAFLD, NASH signifies inflammation of the liver and is a much more serious condition than a simple fatty liver. The cell damage and inflammation can even lead to scarring of the liver including fibrosis and cirrhosis and even liver cancer.

What are the problems precipitated by ALD?

While alcoholic fatty liver disease is preventable and generally gets better once you kick the bottle, it can also cause complex conditions like:

  • Enlarged liver: This might cause pain or discomfort in the right upper side of the tummy, However, it may not show any symptoms at all.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis: This is an inflammatory condition of the liver which may cause nausea and vomiting, fever, tummy ache and jaundice.
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis: This is a serious condition, involving scar tissue buildup in the liver. Besides similar symptoms like hepatitis, cirrhosis can also lead to ascites or massive fluid buildup in the tummy, elevated blood pressure in the liver, bleeding, enlarged spleen, confusion, and even liver failure. Alcoholic hepatitis can over time turn into alcoholic cirrhosis.

What are the common symptoms of fatty liver disease?

While for ALD and NAFLD, there aren’t normally any significant symptoms except fatigue and tummy-ache, NASH and cirrhosis can manifest in symptoms like:

  • Swelling in the belly
  • Thickened blood vessels showing underneath the skin
  • Redness in the palms
  • Enlarged breasts in men
  • Yellowish tinge in eyes and skin because of jaundice

What are the known risk factors for fatty liver disease?

Too much alcohol is the primary cause for ALD, while other risk factors include:

  • Obesity
  • Malnourishment
  • Chronic viral hepatitis, particularly the C type
  • Older individuals are more vulnerable

The known risk factors for NAFLD or NASH include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • If you have insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
  • If your triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol counts are high or HDL (good) cholesterol count is low
  • The elderly are more prone
  • If you have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • If you have sleep apneoa
  • If you have hypothyroidism
  • If you have hypopituitarism (underactive pituitary gland)
  • Malnourishment
  • Sudden weight loss
  • Exposure to certain toxins or chemicals
  • Having metabolic syndrome which makes one more prone to diabetes and heart disease

Medica’s Department of Gastroenterology & Hepatology provides advanced diagnosis and treatment facilities for gastric and liver disorders under the supervision of experienced specialist.