People are often filled with fear and anxiety when they are diagnosed with conditions of the liver probably due to the important functions the liver plays in the human body and unfavorable prognosis of most liver conditions. The liver is the second largest organ in the body after the skin. Almost all bodily functions are directly or indirectly dependant on the liver.
Fatty liver disease is a medical condition which occurs when there is an abnormal accumulation of fatty acids and glycerol (triglycerides) in the liver cells (hepatocytes). Although the liver cells contain an acceptable amount of fatty deposit considered ‘normal’, an excessive deposit of these fatty substances leads to this condition often referred to as ‘steatosis’.
Unlike most liver diseases, fatty liver is reversible with appropriate treatment and lifestyle modification; sufferers can achieve total cure and resume normal life. However, when left untreated or when there is an underlying debilitating illness, the condition may become complicated and prove fatal.
Prevalence of fatty liver disease
Many researches and studies have been conducted to determine the epidemiology of this condition and their results could be summarized as follows:
- It affects between 2%-30% of the world population irrespective of age, gender and ethnicity.
- More common among obese people
- Over 80% of alcoholics suffer from this condition
- It affects more men than women.
- It affects one third of the American population.
- It is higher in older adults and postmenopausal women.
- The prevalence is higher in Hispanic and Asian but lowest in Black.
- It affects 2%-12% of children most of which are obese.
- The risk increases in patients undergoing bariatric surgery.
Pathophysiology of Fatty Liver Disease
The disease follows a similar pattern irrespective of the causative factor. With accumulation of triglycerides in the hepatocytes there is a displacement of the cellular contents especially the nucleus and an increase in the cell size (macrovesicular hypertrophy) which causes the cells to undergo several changes and becomes non-functional. This stage is often reversible with the elimination of causative factors.