Fatty liver (also known as fatty liver disease or FLD) occurs when there is an excess accumulation of triglyceride fat in the liver.  The triglyceride fats accumulate when cells abnormally retain lipids via the process of steatosis.

When too much fat accumulates in the liver, it takes up space within and around the hepatocytes (liver cells).  The fat takes over the spaces normally used by healthy cells and the liver becomes larger and heavier.  People experiencing fatty liver disease sometimes experience pressure due to the liver enlarging.

A normal, healthy liver is triangular in shape and has a reddish-brown appearance.  If you take a cross-section of a healthy liver, you’ll find a lot of vacant spaces and channels (sinusoids).  These are normally filled with blood and allow the absorption of essential fats, proteins, and acids, and allow for blood to be filtered.

In a fatty liver, the color is often yellowish, and you’ll often notice signs of stretching and swelling.  A cross section will reveal fewer spaces and channels as many will be filled up with fat.  In severe cases, the blood filtering process will be impaired and complete liver failure can occur.

The liver is a vital organ and performs hundreds of critical functions in the body.  It is second in size only to your skin, and it is the heaviest organ, weighing up to 3lbs.  Maintaining proper liver function is critical to living a long and healthy life.  If your liver stays healthy, much of the rest of your body will stay healthy as well.

Fatty liver by itself is not fatal.  However, if not identified early and kept under control, it can lead to more severe conditions such as cirrhosis and liver cancer. Read the rest of this entry