Fatty liver disease can be a result of heavy drinking, but people who avoid alcohol can sometimes develop this condition, too. The disease results when a person has a buildup of fat within their liver, which can interfere with the organ's normal function. While this condition can often be mild, severe cases can lead to worrying complications and may be fatal.
When excessive drinking causes fatty liver disease, it can also be referred to as ALD (for Alcoholic-Related Fatty Liver Disease), or alcoholic steatohepatitis. At this stage, a person's symptoms can be minimal, though they may feel pain or sensitivity on their right side, and have issues with fatigue. If a person continues to drink, their liver's condition can worsen, and they can experience alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to fatty liver disease that affects someone who rarely, or never, drinks alcohol. It may cause no problems, and simply note an accumulation of fat in the organ. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a more serious condition - in serious cases, a liver transplant can be required. This disease can result in fibrosis, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer.
Because the symptoms of ALD and NAFLD can be minimal, a person in either condition may feel no need to seek treatment. Visible symptoms of NASH can include enlarged breasts for men, red palms, swelling around the belly, or signs of jaundice. Alcoholic hepatitis or cirrhosis can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, jaundice, and pain. Doctors can check for fatty liver disease using physical exams, blood tests, imaging tests, or a biopsy of the liver.
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