Definition

What is fatty liver?

Fatty liver, or steatosis, is a term that describes the buildup of fat in the liver. While it’s usual to have some fat in your liver, more than 5 to 10 percent of your liver weight is fat in the case of fatty liver. Fatty liver is a reversible condition that can be resolved with changed behaviors. It often has no symptoms and typically does not cause permanent damage. The liver is the second largest organ in the body. The function of the liver is to process everything we eat or drink and filter any harmful substances from the blood. This process is interrupted if too much fat is in the liver. The liver commonly repairs itself by rebuilding new liver cells when the old ones are damaged. When there’s repeated damage to the liver, permanent scarring takes place. This is called cirrhosis.

How common is fatty liver?

Fatty liver is common. Around 10 to 20 percent of Americans have too much fat in their liver, but no inflammation or damage is present. However, it can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of fatty liver?

Fatty liver typically has no associated symptoms. You may experience fatigue or vague abdominal discomfort. Your liver may become slightly enlarged, and your doctor can detect this during a physical exam.

Excess fat can cause liver inflammation. If your liver becomes inflamed, you may experience a poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, weakness, and confusion.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consulting with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What causes fatty liver?

It is believed that the most common cause of fatty liver is alcoholism and heavy drinking. In many cases, doctors don’t know what causes fatty liver in people who are not alcoholics. Fatty liver develops when the body creates too much fat or cannot metabolize fat fast enough. The excess fat is stored in liver cells where it accumulates to form fatty liver disease. Eating a high-fat diet may not directly result in fatty liver.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for fatty liver?

You may have higher risks for this condition if you are experiencing these following conditions:

  • Obesity
  • Hyperlipidemia, or high levels of fats in the blood
  • Diabetes

Fatty liver is the buildup of extra fats in the liver, it’s more likely to develop if you’re overweight or obese. Having type 2 diabetes also may increase your risk for fatty liver. Fat accumulation in the liver has been linked to insulin resistance, which is the most common cause of type 2 diabetes.

  • Genetic inheritance
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Side effect of certain medications, including aspirin, steroids, tamoxifen, and tetracycline
  • Excessive alcohol use
  • Taking more than the recommended doses of certain over-the-counter medications, such as acetaminophen
  • Pregnancy
  • High cholesterol
  • High triglyceride levels
  • Malnutrition
  • Metabolic syndrome

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How are fatty liver diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects you have this disorder, a mental physical examination will be performed.

Diagnosis of fatty liver is typically based on:

  • Blood tests:Your doctor may find that liver enzymes are higher than normal on a routine blood test. This doesn’t confirm a diagnosis of fatty liver. Further analysis is necessary to find the cause of the inflammation.
  • Ultrasound: The fat on your liver will show up as a white area on the ultrasound image. Other imaging studies may also be done, such as CT or MRI scans. Imaging studies can detect fat in the liver, but they cannot help your doctor confirm any further damage.
  • Liver biopsy: In a liver biopsy, your doctor will insert a needle into the liver to remove a piece of tissue for examination. Your doctor will give you a local anesthetic to lessen the pain. This is the only way to know for certain if you have fatty liver. The biopsy will also help your doctor determine the exact cause.

How are fatty liver treated?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a medication or surgery to treat fatty liver. Instead, your doctor will offer recommendations to reduce your risk factors. These recommendations include:

  • Limiting or avoiding alcoholic beverages
  • Managing your cholesterol
  • Losing weight
  • Controlling your blood sugar

If you have fatty liver because of obesity or unhealthy eating habits, your doctor may also suggest that you increase physical activity and eliminate certain types of food from your diet. Reducing the number of calories you eat each day can help you lose weight and heal your liver.

You can also reverse fatty liver disease by reducing or eliminating fatty foods and foods high in sugar from your diet. Choose healthier foods like fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Replace red meats with lean animal proteins like chicken and fish.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage fatty liver?

Follow your doctor’s instructions, and take medications for diabetes or high cholesterol as directed. Additionally, aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week to maintain a healthy weight. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: July 6, 2017 | Last Modified: July 6, 2017

Want to live your best life?
Get the Hello Doktor Daily newsletter for health tips, wellness updates and more.