I HAVE A FATTY LIVER: WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?
Having a small amount of fat in your liver is normal, and might not cause problems or symptoms. However, sometimes when fat starts to build up it can cause concerns. In some instances, fat in the liver can cause it to become inflamed. This can damage your liver and create scarring.
Liver fibrosis results from scarring and stiffening of healthy liver tissue. This form of liver damage can stem from a variety of causes.
Liver disease can be caused by a number of factors, such as excessive alcohol use, fatty liver, or viral and autoimmune causes. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common types of chronic liver diseases in Canada. It occurs when excess fat is stored in the liver cells without a known cause, and can lead to liver inflammation and eventually liver fibrosis.
Please note that not all patients with a fatty liver have NAFLD. However, according to the Canadian Liver Foundation, NAFLD affects up to 20 percent of people in Canada. It often develops in people who are overweight or obese, or people who have a high-fat, high-sugar diet.
Your liver is the second largest organ in your body. It helps process nutrients and filters harmful substances from your blood. When a high fat build up leads to liver fibrosis, it can impede the proper functioning of your liver.
As liver fibrosis progresses, the liver tissue becomes stiffer and may eventually lead to the end stage, referred to as cirrhosis.
Chronic liver disease can severely affect the function of your liver, but early diagnosis can limit further damage.
A type of ultrasound imaging called elastography directs painless low frequency vibrations into the liver to measure how quickly these vibrations move through it. A computer uses this information to create a visual map showing the stiffness of the liver. This exam is the same as an abdomen ultrasound with the use of elastography technology at the end of the exam.
By measuring the stiffness of your liver, elastography is an appropriate tool to look for the variety of diseases that can occur in the liver and:
- Detect and assess the severity of liver disease.
- Guide treatment decisions.
- Monitor your response to treatment.
- Determine the risk or presence of complications of liver disease.
Traditionally, liver fibrosis was assessed with biopsy – a needle was used to take a small sample of your liver tissue for examination under a microscope. However, this invasive technique can be associated with complications and can only sample a small portion of the liver.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF LIVER FIBROSIS?
With mild to moderate liver fibrosis, many people do not experience symptoms. As such, it can be challenging to diagnose chronic liver disease. Your health care practitioner might look at risk factors, such as heavy alcohol use, obesity, and diabetes, to help diagnose it, as well as results from blood tests.
HOW DO I GET AN ELASTOGRAPHY ULTRASOUND?
Ultrasound helps health care practitioners make a diagnosis and inform care decisions. Once your doctor has identified the need for this exam, your doctor’s office may book an appointment for you, or provide you with a number to call to book your appointment. You will also be given a requisition form and preparation instructions for your exam.
For an abdominal ultrasound, you will be asked to fast and have nothing to eat or drink (except water) for six hours prior to your exam. It generally takes between 20-30 minutes to complete this exam.
Once in the exam room you may be asked to change into a gown. You will then be positioned by one of our compassionate and experienced sonographers. A warm, unscented, hypo-allergenic ultrasound gel will be applied to your abdomen, and your sonographer will move the transducer around the front and side of your abdomen and ribcage to gather images of your organs. You may be asked to hold your breath and change position to help better examine the area of concern. You may experience mild to moderate pressure while the sonographer takes the images.
WHAT HAPPENS AFTER MY EXAM?
Your images will be reviewed by a specialized radiologist who will compile a report that is sent to your doctor within 24 hours, sooner for urgent requests. Mayfair Diagnostics is owned and operated by over 60 radiologists who are fellowship-trained in many keys areas, such as neuroradiology, body, cardiac, and musculoskeletal imaging, etc. This allows for an expert review of your imaging by the applicably trained radiologist.
Your images will be uploaded to a provincial picture archiving and communication system (PACS) – this technology provides electronic storage and convenient access to your medical images from multiple sources, such as your doctor, specialists, hospitals, and walk-in clinics.
Your doctor will review your images and the report from the radiologist and discuss next steps with you, such as a treatment plan or the need for further diagnostic imaging or lab tests to ensure an accurate diagnosis.
Gherlan, G. S. (2015) “Liver ultrasound elastography: More than staging the disease.” World Journal of Hepatology. Accessed January 11, 2021.