Fatty Liver Disease: Types, Prominent Similarities and Differences

By Amatul Ameen | 2nd Aug 2023

Fatty Liver Disease: Types, Prominent Similarities and Differences

What is fatty liver disease?

It is a condition that is characterised by fat build-up inside the liver. The liver is the largest organ inside the human body. It helps in the digestion process, energy storage and removal of toxins from the body.

There are two types of fatty liver disease

  1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease
  2. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or alcoholic steatohepatitis

What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is characterised by fat in the liver with or without inflammation and with or without liver damage. Additionally, it may lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, especially in steatohepatitis (a type of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)

What is alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Alcoholic fatty liver disease is mainly due to alcohol consumption. The alcohol consumed is metabolised in the liver, removes the metabolised products, and releases toxic substances that are harmful to the liver. The toxins cause inflammation and weaken the defence system of the body. The more the consumption of alcohol, the more significant the damage to the liver.

Differences between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic fatty liver disease

  1. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is mainly due to excess consumption of alcohol, which leads to liver cancer. At the same time, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is not due to alcohol consumption.
  2. Diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, high levels of cholesterol and overweight issues are the leading causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. At the same time, only alcohol consumption is the cause of alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  3. The treatment for alcoholic fatty liver diseases is the reduction of alcohol consumption. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease treatment includes lifestyle changes, i.e. reducing weight in case of being overweight, eating a balanced diet and reducing unnecessary medications and alcohol.
  4. The fatty degeneration of liver cells is faster in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than in alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Similarities between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic fatty liver disease

  1. The risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease are very similar. They include people with pre-diabetes and type -2 diabetes, obesity, middle-aged people (children also get it sometimes), high levels of fats in the blood like cholesterol and triglycerides, high blood pressures, use of corticosteroids and other anti-cancer drugs, people with metabolic disorders including metabolic syndrome, have rapid weight loss, have infections like hepatitis C, and exposed to some toxic substances.
  2. The symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic fatty liver disease are not prominent or are silent most of the time. If you feel you have a few symptoms, such as pain in the upper right side of your stomach, discomfort and tired feeling,
  3. Alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease both have fat accumulated inside the liver.
  4. Both are severe types of health problems worldwide.
  5. Alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are common signs of disease progression from simple liver steatosis to steatohepatitis, liver cirrhosis and then liver cancer.
  6. Differentiation of both diseases is difficult.
  7. The diagnosis of both alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease includes taking a medical history, physical examination, and tests to diagnose alcoholic/non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The medical history includes being overweight, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels in the blood and metabolic syndrome. Physical examination includes an enlarged liver and dark patches on elbows and knees, indicating insulin resistance and cirrhosis. Tests include imaging tests like ultrasound, CT Scan, and MRI Scan.

Conclusion

Fatty livers are of two types. Alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver. Both fatty livers are due to the excess fat accumulation in the liver. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is due to excessive alcohol consumption. In contrast, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is due to other factors like pre-diabetes, type 2 diabetes, being overweight, high cholesterol levels in the blood, and high blood pressure. Both types have many similarities, which make it difficult to differentiate. However, diagnosis makes it possible to differentiate alcoholic fatty liver disease from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

References

  1. Toshikuni N, Tsutsumi M, Arisawa T. Clinical differences between alcoholic liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. World J Gastroenterol [Internet]. 2014 [cited 2023 July 23];20(26):8393–406. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.3748/wjg.v20.i26.8393
  2. [cited 2023 July 23]. Available from: http://ttps://medlineplus.gov/fattyliverdisease.html
  3. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) & NASH [Internet]. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. [cited 2023 July 23]. Available from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash

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