What’s steatohepatitis?

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Steatohepatitis is a liver disease caused by fatty deposits, often due to alcohol abuse, obesity, diabetes, or metabolic disorders. It can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, but is often asymptomatic. Treatment involves lifestyle changes and medication, with surgery reserved for severe cases.

Steatohepatitis is a form of liver disease in which fatty deposits build up in the liver and cause inflammation of the tissues. The condition is more common in people who abuse alcohol, although it can also occur due to obesity, diabetes, or an inherited metabolic disorder. Most cases of steatohepatitis cause no negative physical symptoms. If the condition goes unnoticed, however, it can lead to cirrhosis or eventual liver cancer. In order to reduce the risk of permanent liver problems, doctors usually suggest that patients abstain from alcohol and develop a healthy diet and exercise habit.

Fat tends to accumulate in the liver when the body is unable to break down fatty acids from food. Years of alcohol abuse can significantly impair metabolic functioning. Conditions such as diabetes, morbid obesity, severe malnutrition or glycogen storage disease also lead to fatty liver deposits. The presence of fat in the liver triggers an immune system response in an attempt to fight off the foreign substance. The result is persistent irritation and inflammation of the surrounding liver tissue.

Steatohepatitis rarely causes symptoms in its early stages. As the inflammation worsens, an individual may experience abdominal pain and feelings of fatigue. Over time, irritated liver tissue can become scarred and lead to a liver disease called cirrhosis. Some cases of steatohepatitis progress to a deadly form of cancer known as hepatocellular carcinoma.

Because steatohepatitis is asymptomatic, a doctor may not notice the condition until a patient is screened for a different health issue. If a routine test reveals fat in the liver, a doctor typically orders a number of other tests to make an accurate diagnosis. Computed tomography, X-rays, and ultrasounds can reveal the extent of inflammation and tissue damage. A surgeon can extract and analyze a piece of liver tissue to confirm the diagnosis.

Treatment for steatohepatitis tends to focus on eliminating the underlying cause. Patients are usually instructed to avoid alcoholic beverages and to maintain a healthy diet and exercise routine. Some people are prescribed medications to lower cholesterol and promote healthy metabolic activity. If you have diabetes, you may need additional medications or insulin injections. A complete recovery is likely when steatohepatitis is discovered early and the patient follows the doctor’s orders.

Surgery is usually reserved for cases of severe steatohepatitis that don’t respond to lifestyle changes or medications. Bariatric surgery is a procedure that is performed on morbidly obese patients to reduce the capacity of their stomachs, thereby helping them lose weight and take the strain off their liver. Sometimes it is necessary for a surgeon to actually eliminate the accumulations of fat in the liver and repair healthy tissue to prevent the formation of cancerous tumors. After surgery, regular checkups are important to ensure that the patient has a full recovery.

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