Fatty Liver Grades Explained: How To Reverse It?
- What does fatty liver mean?
- How many grades of fatty liver are there? What are the histological features of fatty liver?
- Grade 1 fatty liver (Steatosis stage)
- Grade 2 fatty liver (NASH)
- Grade 3 fatty liver (Fibrosis stage)
- Grade 4 fatty liver (Cirrhosis stage)
- What are the signs and symptoms of fatty liver grades?
- 1. Ascites and pedal oedema
- 2. Portal hypertension
- 3. Jaundice
- 4. Hepatic encephalopathy
- 5. Oesophageal varices
- 6. Red palms
- What are the causes and risk factors of fatty liver?
- 1. Eating excess calories
- 2. Insulin resistance
- 3. Alcoholism
- 4. Hepatitis-induced fatty liver
- 5. Drug-induced fatty liver
- 6. Genetic predisposition
- What is the pathophysiology of fatty liver grades?
- Does fatty liver cause high SGOT/SGPT in LFT lab findings?
- SGPT and SGOT level in Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
- SGPT and SGOT levels in alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)
- How to check fatty liver grades in ultrasound?
- Can Liver fatty be cured?
- 1. Weight loss
- 2. Diet modification
- 3. Avoid alcohol
- 4. Control diabetes
- 5. Natural remedies
- 6. Supplements
- 7. Medicines
- 8. Liver transplant
- Q 1. Which fatty liver grade is dangerous?
- Q 2. Is grade 1 fatty liver dangerous?
- Q 3. Is fatty liver grade 2 serious?
- Q 4. Is fatty liver grade 3 serious?
Fatty liver grades are generally stages of fatty liver disease.
You will be shocked to know that 9 to 32% population suffers from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in India
According to a review and meta-analysis study published in The Lancet 2022, 32·4% population are exposed to fatty liver disease worldwide.
You can understand how fatty liver disease is increasing at an alarming rate.
Like diabetes, Fatty liver disease is also considered a Silent Killer disease because people don’t feel any symptoms at initial stage of fatty liver disease.
Therefore, it slowly comes into your body and causes chronic liver disease.
The severity of the fatty liver disease depends on fatty liver grades. Your liver condition will become more vulnerable if fatty liver grades get increase.
This post will discuss fatty liver grades, types, causes, pathology, symptoms and complications.
I’ll also share some tips on how to reverse fatty liver disease.
Let’s get started.
What does fatty liver mean?
Fatty liver disease is a metabolic disease where fat gets stored in your hepatocytes or liver cells that, cause inflammation.
If we say simply, excessive fat deposition in your liver may lead to fatty liver disease.
In a healthy person, a small amount of fat is stored in the liver in a triglyceride form (up to 5%). You will have fatty liver disease if it exceeds 5%.
It is also known as Hepatic Steatosis. Here, Steatosis means fat accumulation in liver cells.
There are two main types of fatty liver disease – alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
If you have ever taken too excess alcohol for a long time. This can be capable of damaging your liver. This type of liver disease is called Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD), also known as Alcoholic Steatohepatitis.
On the contrary, you may also have the fatty liver disease even if you don’t take alcohol. It could be due to lifestyle changes and having a poor diet. This type of liver disease is called Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
How many grades of fatty liver are there? What are the histological features of fatty liver?
Fatty liver disease is generally graded based on the amount of fat stored and the degree of liver damage. This is called Fatty Liver Grades.
Simply, this fatty liver grade represents stages of fatty liver. There are four grades of fatty liver – Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3 and Grade 4.
A liver biopsy is considered a gold-standard test to identify the grade of fatty liver.
Suppose you get a biopsy done of your fatty liver. You see the microscopic view of fatty liver cells in your report.
Let’s understand fatty liver histology and look at the differences between fatty liver grades on the microscopic level.
Grade 1 fatty liver (Steatosis stage)
It is a mild form of fatty liver that simple fat accumulation in your liver cells. Sometimes, this first stage of fatty liver is called Simple fatty Liver or Steatosis.
This Grade 1 fatty liver has only small fat vacuoles (or liposomes) without inflammation or scars.
You can see a lot of tiny fat droplets in liver cells that seems to be inflated balloon. This type of structure is called Fat-Filled Hepatocytes.
You may have triglyceride (or fat) content between 5%–33% in grade 1 fatty liver.
In official medical terms, this non-inflammatory fatty liver is called NAFLD (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
Although NAFLD is not life-threatening, but it can significantly cause chronic liver disease.
Grade 2 fatty liver (NASH)
This is the second stage of your fatty liver. Your grade 1 fatty liver may convert into a Grade 2 fatty liver, which is a more severe liver condition.
In this stage, your liver starts depositing high-fat content. As a result, liver cells get inflamed and, eventually, damaged.
You may see fat content of 34%–66% in your biopsy report. You will also find large fat droplets that seem to be swollen hepatocytes.
The size of fat vacuoles increases with the progression of fatty liver.
When fat molecules damage the liver cells and lead to inflammation, the condition is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Simply, the inflammatory condition of fatty liver is called NASH. Whereas the non-inflammatory fatty liver is called NAFLD.
Grade 3 fatty liver (Fibrosis stage)
Grade 3 fatty liver is more severe and dangerous than all fatty liver grading.
At this stage, fat molecules start accumulating in entire liver cells.
Due to this invading of fat content, you may see colossal hepatocyte ballooning (or large fat vacuole) in a microscopic structure in your biopsy report.
You may have more than 66% fat content in this grade 3 fatty liver.
This excess fat deposition in your liver cells leads to severe inflammation and liver damage. Later, it converts into liver fibrosis and stiffness.
This third stage of fatty liver is called Fibrotic fatty liver.
Grade 4 fatty liver (Cirrhosis stage)
Grade 4 is the final stage of your fatty liver.
At this stage, your liver cells make many large fatty cysts that dissolve in liver cells and form scars.
As far as the concern of fat content, it is very high (more than >66%).
These things do not let your liver works properly. As a result, your liver stops functioning.
This is an irreversible stage of fatty liver. Here, the liver can’t recover its normal phase. This stage is called End-stage liver disease.
It is also known as Hepatic (Liver) Cirrhosis or Liver failure.
What are the signs and symptoms of fatty liver grades?
Fatty liver disease is a silent disease; it comes with no signs or symptoms.
NAFLD (non-inflammatory or Grade 1 fatty liver) is asymptomatic, meaning you don’t feel any symptoms.
Still, you may have fatigue, thirst, anxiety, upper abdominal pain, bloating or discomfort, etc. These are the most common symptoms of NAFLD.
As the disease progresses, symptoms start appearing, usually in advance grading of fatty liver disease such as NASH (inflammatory fatty liver)
If left untreated, you may have a more severe liver condition that gets more complicated.
I have mentioned the critical signs, symptoms and complications for grade 3 and 4 fatty liver disease (liver cirrhosis).
1. Ascites and pedal oedema
You must have heard about albumin. This is an essential protein that releases from your healthy liver.
Albumin acts as an osmotic gradient. It has a crucial function that pulls the water from tissue and drains it into blood vessels.
Suppose you have a grade 4 fatty liver (or liver cirrhosis). You get your LFT done and find a low albumin level that indicates water accumulation in your interstitial tissue, such as the peritoneal cavity.
This water accumulation in tissue develops into ascites and pedal oedema.
In pedal oedema, you will feel swelling and puffiness in your legs. While you may have a bulge in your entire abdomen during ascites.
2. Portal hypertension
It is a leading complication of an advanced stage of fatty liver disease. Your liver receives all nutritious blood (which comes from the digestive tract, spleen, and pancreas) by the portal vein.
Fatty liver disease resists blood flow and stresses the portal vein.
This causes increased blood pressure called Portal hypertension.
Liver cells generally convert the unconjugated bilirubin to conjugated bilirubin.
In liver cirrhosis, your liver cells do not work, and they stop the bilirubin conjugation.
As a result, the unconjugated bilirubin returns to the bloodstream that deposits in the skin and the eye’s sclera. You will have increased conjugated bilirubin in your LFT report.
The higher level of bilirubin in your blood indicates jaundice.
4. Hepatic encephalopathy
The liver is a big detox organ. It has crucial role in deamination and urea production.
In a healthy person, the liver converts ammonia (a toxic compound) into urea (a non-toxic compound) by the urea cycle.
But with high fatty liver disease (or Liver failure), your liver cannot convert ammonia to urea, which causes high ammonia levels in your blood.
In this condition, you might have confusion, loss of brain function, thinking problems, etc.
5. Oesophageal varices
If your blood vessels to the liver are blocked by scar tissue. Then, the tiny capillaries start to leak and rupture. As a result, it causes severe bleeding in the oesophagus that can be life-threatening complications.
You may get pale/black colour stool and blood in vomiting.
6. Red palms
It is caused by dilated capillaries in the palm. Since your liver is not producing clotting factors. Thus, you may get microscopic bleeding and redness on the surface of your palms.
What are the causes and risk factors of fatty liver?
Although the exact cause of fatty liver is still unclear, but there are certain possible reasons to cause fatty liver.
A bad lifestyle is the most significant risk factor for developing NAFLD (Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease).
Let’s see what other risk factors influence the progression of fatty liver grades or NAFLD.
1. Eating excess calories
The number one cause of the fatty liver disease is diet.
Carbohydrates are not your friend in fatty liver disease.
This means that if you eat carbohydrates from vegetables, fruits etc., it is fine, but taking carbohydrates from processed foods (such as bread, pasta, sugary foods etc.) is not good for your health, especially in fatty liver condition.
2. Insulin resistance
Insulin resistance is a second major cause of fatty liver disease. It is strongly associated with NAFLD.
If your body cells don’t respond to insulin, it returns to blood, leading to hyperinsulinemia. This higher insulin level in your blood after rejecting by body cells is called Insulin resistance.
The high glucose and insulin level in your blood may deposit in your liver cells that, cause fatty liver.
All in all, uncontrolled diabetes can be a decisive risk factor for developing fatty liver disease.
Too much alcohol consumption is also another cause of fatty liver. This type of fatty liver is called AFLD (Alcoholic Fatty Liver disease).
According to a study in 2017, you would be at higher risk if you consume alcohol 40 to 80 grams per day for males and 20 to 40 grams per day for females.
The standard drink of alcohol is 14 gm/day.
When alcohol gets metabolised in your cells, it gets converted into acetaldehyde by the alcohol dehydrogenase enzyme. Eventually, it transforms into acetate from acetaldehyde by aldehyde dehydrogenase enzyme.
Alcohol → Acetaldehyde→ Acetate
Acetaldehyde is a primary culprit, stimulating Ito cells and releasing fat. These fats get accumulate in your liver, which causes fatty liver. It is also known as Alcoholic steatohepatitis.
4. Hepatitis-induced fatty liver
If you have liver inflammation due to some viruses, that results in hepatitis.
Hepatitis is one of the reasons to cause of fatty liver disease. As per a study, hepatitis B and C are strongly associated with NAFLD.
Fatty liver may also be due to autoimmune hepatitis.
5. Drug-induced fatty liver
Some drugs can accumulate in your liver and cause NASH fatty liver. These drugs are –
- An antiarrhythmic drug like amiodarone
- Steroid medicines like prednisolone
- Antiepileptic drugs such as valproate
- Anticancer medications like methotrexate, tamoxifen, cisplatin and irinotecan
- Antiretroviral agents like lamivudine, zidovudine etc.
6. Genetic predisposition
If someone has had this problem in your family, you will be more prone to fatty liver.
Studies reveal that there may be involvement of a gene called PNPLA3, responsible for a high risk of developing NAFLD.
Hemochromatosis is one of the genetic problems that cause fatty liver.
What is the pathophysiology of fatty liver grades?
Let’s understand fatty liver pathology and see how fat deposits in your liver cells.
Ito cells play a significant role in worsening fatty liver disease.
If you see the structure of a lobule in the liver. Ito cells are present in the space of Disse (a small area between hepatocytes and sinusoids).
Ito cells are generally fat-storing cells or vitamin A. These cells are also called Hepatic stellate cells or Perisinusoidal cells.
Suppose you have an advanced stage of fatty liver diseases such as grade 3 and grade 4. In that condition, the inflammatory mediators (such as adipokines, cytokines, etc.) stimulate the Ito cells.
These Ito cells lose their fat and get deposited in your liver cells. Over time, it becomes very aggressive and dangerous. Then it converts into myofibroblast and starts secreting collagen.
Due to this collagen, the liver becomes generalised fibrotic and constricts the capillaries around sinusoids.
These factors reduce the blood flow in liver cells, which results in necrosis and liver cell death.
Does fatty liver cause high SGOT/SGPT in LFT lab findings?
When fats (more than 5%) get stored in your liver cells, they become fat-filled hepatocytes. As a result, hepatocytes start bursting and cause inflammation.
Suppose you have been suggested a liver function test by a doctor. If you get higher SGOT and SGPT levels in your blood test report, it might indicate fatty liver disease.
The level of SGOT and SGPT depends on the severity and type of fatty liver disease.
SGPT and SGOT level in Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, SGPT level is higher than SGOT because SGPT is more specific for liver disease.
You can see the mild elevation of SGOT (45 IU/L) and SGPT (60 IU/L) in grade 1 fatty liver disease.
The SGPT level increases in inflammatory fatty conditions such as NASH (Grade 2 and Grade 3 fatty liver).
SGPT and SGOT levels in alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)
On the contrary, SGOT is two times higher than SGPT in alcoholic fatty liver disease.
But if someone has grade 4 fatty liver disease (or liver cirrhosis). In that case, SGOT is much higher than SGPT because liver cirrhosis may also damage other body parts like the heart, brain etc.
How to check fatty liver grades in ultrasound?
Ultrasound is an imaging diagnostic tool that produces high-frequency sound waves and gives you a live picture of your inside body. It is also called Sonography.
The results of the ultrasound report represent an echogenicity form.
It would help if you remembered fluid is always black, and tissue is Gray. It does not penetrate bone, so you will see white colour.
The low echogenicity indicates dark colour images in ultrasound are called hypoechogenic. It could be fluid.
In contrast, the high echogenicity indicates lighter colour images in ultrasound reports called hyperechogenic. This hyperechogenic is a major finding in your report.
The high echogenicity in the liver indicates the presence of fat content. This fat content in the liver reflects in light colour images in your ultrasound report.
- Grade 1 fatty liver – slightly increased hepatic echogenicity with clearly visible diaphragm
- Grade 2 fatty liver – moderate diffuse increased hepatic echogenicity with impaired portal vein
- Grade 3 fatty liver – a marked increase of hepatic echogenicity with no visualisation of the portal vein and diaphragm
It also depends on echotexture (homogenous or coarse) and liver surface (smooth and nodular).
If there is a high SGPT and SGOT level with increased echogenic liver and positive clinical signs, that indicates fatty liver disease.
These clinical tests help your doctor to find fatty liver grades.
Can Liver fatty be cured?
The good news is that you can reverse your fatty liver disease and even cure it.
If you get diagnosed early, it can be treated because some fatty liver grades are reversible, such as grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3.
This means your liver reduces the excess fat itself and returns to the healthy liver stage.
But if you get liver cirrhosis or grade 4 fatty liver, that is irreversible. At this stage, your liver cells cannot reduce fat and can’t return to a healthy liver.
Liver transplantation is the only option for liver failure condition.
If we talk about life expectancy with fatty liver disease. An advanced stage of fatty liver disease hampers the quality of life and decreases survival.
Although, there is no such proper medicine available for fatty liver disease. It would be best if you manage your risk factors to prevent fatty liver disease.
You can do the following things to reduce fatty liver conditions –
1. Weight loss
Losing weight is the fastest way to decrease fatty liver conditions.
According to a study, your liver fat content can improve by up to 10 % through exercise or weight loss.
Generally, exercise helps to cut down fat from your liver.
2. Diet modification
Taking less calorie food helps to reduce fat content from your liver.
You should avoid high glycaemic index foods such as Pizza, burgers, chips, ice creams, bread and other processed foods.
You need to manage your fatty liver diet plan. You must include low glycaemic index foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, brown bread etc.
Fasting is also an excellent way to improve your fatty liver condition.
3. Avoid alcohol
Stopping alcohol is the best way to reduce fatty liver disease.
As you know, alcohol is one of the reasons for developing fatty liver. You should not take alcohol for any liver disease, whether NAFLD or FLD.
4. Control diabetes
If you have diabetes, you should control your blood glucose level. We have seen how high blood glucose levels induce fatty liver.
You should get your blood glucose level, and HBA1C checked. It will help if you take your antidiabetic medicines at the proper time.
5. Natural remedies
Researchers found that regular caffeine and green tea intake significantly reduces hepatic fibrosis in NAFLD. These beverages act as an antioxidant that regenerates your healthy liver cells.
Some studies reveal that vitamin Eacts as a liver protective agent. It is a potent antioxidant that helps to reduce oxidative stress in NAFLD.
You can take some essential supplements that help to reduce your fatty liver. These are –
- Glutathione (acts as detoxifier and antioxidant)
- Berberine (anti-dyslipidaemia effect)
- Alpha lipoic acid (reduce insulin resistance)
- Omega 3 fatty acid (reduce triglyceride content)
Although, there is no such new treatment for fatty liver disease. In the advanced stage, you may be prescribed some medicines to prevent the worsening of fatty liver. For example-
- Diuretics – to prevent ascites and edema
- Vitamin K – to improve coagulopathy
- L-ornithine L-aspartate (LOLA) – good evidence in hepatic encephalopathy
- Antibiotics (e.g., amoxicillin) – to prevent infections
- Antidiabetics – to control blood glucose level
- Antihypertensive (e.g., ACE inhibitors) – to control blood pressure
- Hypolipidemic agents or lipid-lowering drugs
8. Liver transplant
Suppose you have the final stage of fatty liver. You can say Grade 4 fatty liver or liver cirrhosis.
This is an irreversible stage of fatty liver, where 90-95% of liver cells get damaged. In that case, a liver transplant is the only way.
Living a sedentary lifestyle contributes to fatty liver disease. You just need to change your lifestyle to reverse the fatty liver grades.
It is always better to stop fatty liver disease early because if it worsens, you will have many serious complications that could be fatal.
It was the information about fatty liver disease. In this post, we have learned about different fatty liver grades, symptoms, causes, diagnostic tests, and treatment options.
You must consult your doctor if you have a fatty liver condition.
Please share this post on social media if you found this informative.
Q 1. Which fatty liver grade is dangerous?
It is always a concern whenever your liver gets inflammation with fat accumulation, known as inflammatory fatty liver. Grade 3 fatty liver is considered the most dangerous stage among all fatty liver grades. If grade 3 fatty liver is untreated, it may convert into fatal liver cirrhosis.
Q 2. Is grade 1 fatty liver dangerous?
You don’t need to worry too much if you have grade 1 fatty liver. In this stage, only fat deposition in your liver cells without inflammation. It does not cause major problems, and it is usually asymptomatic. It can be reversed by simple diet modification.
Q 3. Is fatty liver grade 2 serious?
Yes. It can be serious because fatty liver grade 2 brings fat deposition and inflammation towards your liver. It is known as NASH. Fortunately, simple diet modification and lifestyle change can reverse your fatty liver grade 2 to a healthy liver.
Q 4. Is fatty liver grade 3 serious?
Yes. Fatty liver grade 3 is the most dangerous stage in all fatty liver grades. This fatty liver stage may cause serious complications such as ascites, oedema, portal hypertension, jaundice, etc. Luckily, it is also a reversible stage. You can reverse your grade 3 fatty liver into a healthy liver.