Shortly after my diabetes diagnosis I was diagnosed with Fatty liver Disease, I thought I’d share my experience here with you…
It’s not a nice title to have to carry around ‘Fatty liver disease’, is it? And years gone by Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and NASH were considered ‘rare’. So why is it today that the rarity of NAFLD and NASH are now classified as common? Could it be to do with people’s sedentary lifestyles? Maybe it involves all that fast food that is available? Or maybe it’s just a genetic thing! The first two are correct in my opinion, and as a sufferer of NAFLD I can confirm that my diet hasn’t always been as good as it is now (and yes I still do eat fatty foods). When I was diagnosed I asked if there was an alternative more medical name, and was told it was ‘Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis’. Sad it may be, but to tell people you have ‘fatty liver disease’ is a bit embarrassing or so I felt.
So let me first explain what NAFLD or fatty liver disease is. Over the course of time our bodies deposit fat in our livers, which our liver normally deal with – leaving them in relatively good nick (as it were). But when we eat too much fat that our livers are unable to cope, then it will have little option but to store that fat, and again over time the residual fat will cause major (potentially fatal) liver problems. But you can help, and I’m sure you will know what is coming next.
Helping yourself, by cutting down on the fatty foods you eat is a must! I did just that and was discharged from hospital after two biopsies and quite a few hospital visits. My GP still keeps an eye on my liver at my annual diabetic check up, just in case.
So how do they diagnose NAFLD NASH? Well initially blood tests will reveal something is wrong (I never got any symptoms that I can recall though). If your doctor picks anything up, they will arrange for you to visit specialist at the hospital. Here they speak to you about your life style and diet and things. They may then ask you to have a biopsy. This involves spending the day laying in bed basically. They take blood tests and make sure you are OK to have the biopsy, and if all goes OK then you lay on your back while the doctor pushes on your ribs and back finding the correct place to send the needle in. Once they have found it, you may feel a sharp pain or the feeling of being ‘winded’. Luckily I had little pain with either of my biopsies. Once complete you will then be required to lay on your side (The side they have taken the biopsy from) for about 8 hours or so.
I wasn’t even allowed to get up to go to the toilet, and had to drink and eat laying on the side. In the end I sat on the edge of the bed and used a bottle. The whole process is a whole day out of your life and one that is spent with quite lengthy waiting at times in hospital corridors and café.
So getting the result a few weeks later I am sent another appointment to visit the outpatients department. At that appointment I’m instructed to cut down on my fat intake and to eat more fruit and vegetables and do exercise if I could (which I am unable). And they also inform me that my spleen is very large, and I would be referred to a different department for that. I am sent away to try to reduce my fat intake, and another appointment is made.
At the next appointment it was good news, I was doing the right thing and there was slight improvement but they needed more time to see if it got better. So the next appointment was made for six months or so in the future. And this time it was good news, the reduction was working. So they advised me to keep up the right diet and discharged me.
Let’s remember that no everyone with NAFLD is obese or overweight, tall people are generally heavier than short but it is true to say that most sufferers are overweight or obese.
Q & A’s
Are there any symptoms?
Most people who have mild NAFLD will not notice any symptoms because the fat build-up is not enough to damage the liver.
A few people complain of tiredness and may feel some pain in the area around the liver (on the right side of the body, under the ribs). The pain may be a sign that the extra fat has made the liver expand.
Is there any treatment?
There is no specific treatment for NAFLD that all doctors agree on. However, there is good evidence that gradual weight loss coupled with increased exercise can reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
In mild cases of fatty liver, most doctors will concentrate on treating conditions such as obesity and diabetes that can cause fat to build up. They will also treat disorders such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol that often go along with fatty liver.
If your NAFLD is linked to being overweight, then you will be advised to lose weight gradually and take sensible exercise. If it is linked to diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol then you will need to watch your diet and your weight, and may also need to take medication.
Is NAFLD serious?
All diseases concerning your liver are serious, as you only have one and while it is capable of regenerating itself – taking care of your own liver is the best recipe! However is NAFLD is left unnoticed and advice ignored it can lead to liver damage (cirrhosis). If you do go on to develop NASH over a ten-year period you have a one in five (20%) chance of developing cirrhosis and a little less than a one in ten (10%) chance of dying from a liver-related problem. So take the advice seriously and listen to your doctor.
Is it curable?
If you cut down on your fat intake, and keep to a sensible diet and lifestyle then the condition is certainly manageable, but if you go back to the old lifestyle then your condition could deteriorate again.