Alcoholic vs. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

The liver is truly an unsung hero when it comes to keeping your body running smoothly. That’s because this cone-shaped organ processes all of the blood leaving your stomach and intestines. 

As blood passes through your liver, the blood and substances it carries get broken down, balanced, and metabolized into forms that are safer or easier for your body to use. Your liver also regulates important nutrients, like the amino acids that form the building blocks of proteins. But it doesn’t stop there. 

More than 500 vital functions are linked to your liver, such as: 

Because the liver plays such a crucial role in the body, it should come as no surprise that serious issues can arise from fatty liver disease — including organ failure. 

At Sonoran Endocrinology, Dr. Rohit Dwivedi helps our patients navigate life-altering disorders linked to hormonal imbalance. Here, Dr. Dwivedi explains the two primary forms of fatty liver disease and how to spot the signs.

Fatty liver disease basics

Fatty liver develops when too much fat builds up in your liver cells. While it’s normal to have small amounts of fat, too much can lead to inflammation. With time, this inflammation can cause damage and scarring. Worse yet, scarring can become so severe that it leads to liver failure.

Unfortunately, fatty liver disease usually causes few if any symptoms early on. However, when they do occur, they typically include fatigue or discomfort in the upper right abdomen. As your condition progresses, you can also experience unexplained weight loss, lack of appetite, jaundice, or edema (swelling or fluid buildup) in your abdomen or legs.

There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic and nonalcoholic.

Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)

With the name like alcoholic fatty liver disease, it’s safe to assume that this form stems from excessive alcohol use. 

Remember, your liver receives and processes the blood passing through your digestive tract, which includes most of the alcohol you consume. However, this process can also create harmful substances that can weaken your body’s defenses, increase inflammation, and damage liver cells. And, the more you drink, the more liver damage you can cause.

AFLD is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease before advancing to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

When it comes to chronic liver conditions, NAFLD is by far the most common. It affects approximately 25% of American adults. In this form of the disease, significant alcohol consumption isn’t a contributor, but you have the same type of liver damage.

The exact cause of NAFLD isn’t known. However, it’s related to several factors, including:

People in middle or older age are also more likely to have NAFLD, though children can also develop the condition.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease comes in two forms: simple fatty liver and NASH. When you have simple fatty liver, you have fat but little, if any, inflammation or liver damage. 

The more serious form is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which comes with inflammation, cell damage, and fat in your liver. NASH can cause scarring and lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Of all the adults who have NAFLD, about 20% of them have NASH.

Treating fatty liver disease

Dr. Dwivedi determines the best course of treatment by determining your liver function. He learns this by performing a comprehensive exam with screenings like laboratory testing, imaging studies, or liver biopsies.

After reaching a diagnosis, Dr. Dwivedi can recommend various strategies to manage your condition, ranging from anti-inflammatory medications to lifestyle changes, like weight loss, exercise, and alcohol avoidance.

Dr. Dwivedi also monitors your liver function closely to make modifications as needed to avoid further damage.

To learn more about fatty liver disease, contact us by calling one of our Arizona offices or booking an appointment online today.

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