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Fatty Liver – Symptoms, Causes, Types, Diagnosis & Treatment

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Fatty Liver is the term that is used to describe the buildup of fat in the liver. While it is normal to have some fat in the liver but if the overall weight of the liver fat exceeds by five percent then it is considered as Fatty Liver. It is not a normal condition but it doesn’t cause any damage by itself. However, it can be a sign that some more harmful conditions are progressing. Fatty liver may lead to inflammation of the liver and if it left untreated then it can lead to scarring and hardening of liver and when scarring becomes severe, it results in Cirrhosis (a serious liver condition). That is why, it is important to diagnose the underlying condition promptly and a proper treatment plan is advised accordingly.

Let’s see a detailed overview of Fatty Liver and its symptoms, causes, types, risk factors, diagnosis and treatment.

Before going into further details, it is important to understand the functioning of one of the vital organs of human body: The Liver. It is the second largest organ in the body and found on right upper abdomen behind the ribs. Liver performs a variety of functions, some of these include: stores energy in the form of sugar (glucose), stores iron, vitamins, minerals, makes proteins for blood clotting and growth of the body, makes bile for food digestion and killing germs entering into the body through intestine. It can also have an amazing power to repair itself by regenerating new liver cells when old cells are damaged. The normal process of liver is interrupted if too much fat builds up in it. When the condition of Fatty Liver gets untreated then it can lead to permanent liver damage.

Symptoms of Fatty Liver:

Typically, there are no signs and symptoms associated with Fatty Liver. However, a patient may experience some fatigue or abdominal discomfort. The liver has become slightly enlarged. If it gets inflamed due to excess fat then a patient experiences weight loss, poor appetite, weakness and abdominal pain.


Causes of Fatty Liver:

Fatty Liver develops when too much fat is created in the body or when the body cannot metabolizes fat fast enough. This excess undigested fat is stored in the liver cells where it starts accumulating to form Fatty Liver Disease.

The most common cause of Fatty Liver is the excessive consumption of alcohol. Besides it, some other common causes include:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in blood)
  • Genetic inheritance
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Side effects of certain medications such as steroids, aspirin, tamoxifen, and
  • tetracycline

Types of Fatty Liver:

The disease is classified into four types, which includes:

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFL): This type of disease occurs when the liver has difficulty in breaking down the fats, causing these excess fats to store in the liver. This type of disease is not associated with the use of alcohol. NAFL is diagnosed when the liver fat exceeds to more than 10 percent.

Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD): Heavy drinking or excessive consumption of alcohol damages the liver and as a result it doesn’t breakdown the fats. If a patient abstains from alcohol for about 6 weeks then the fat will disappear, but if the alcohol consumption continues then it can even cause Cirrhosis.


Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH): When excess fat accumulates in the liver, it may cause swelling to liver and if the cause of this accumulated fat isn’t alcohol consumption then this type is called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis. It can impair the normal functioning of the liver. Common symptoms of this type of disease include: nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and jaundice. If this condition is left untreated then it may cause scarring of the liver which eventually leads to liver failure.

Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy: It is a rare complication of pregnancy which can also become life-threatening. Common symptoms which appear in third trimester include: jaundice, general discomfort, persistent nausea and vomiting and pain in upper right abdomen. Women should get themselves screened for this condition as per doctor recommendation. Mostly, women get relieve from this condition after pregnancy and there are no lasting effects.

Risk factors of Fatty Liver:

The factors that may increase the risk of developing Fatty Liver Disease include:

  1. Obesity or overweight
  2. Type 2 Diabetes
  3. Excessive use of alcohol
  4. High cholesterol levels
  5. High triglyceride levels
  6. Pregnancy
  7. Metabolic syndrome
  8. Malnutrition
  9. Excessive usage of certain over-the-counter medications than recommended doses

Diagnosis of Fatty Liver:

At first, the doctor conducts a physical examination of the patient by examining the abdomen. The patient should tell the doctor about the symptoms and history of alcohol usage or certain medications or supplements.


Blood tests: The doctor may also conduct blood test to find out whether liver enzymes are higher than normal. But this doesn’t confirm the Fatty Liver and so further analysis is imperative to find the exact cause of inflammation.

Ultrasound: The doctor conducts ultrasound in which the fat on the liver shows up as a white area on ultrasound image. Other imaging exams such as MRI or CT scan may also be conducted depending on the individual conditions.

Liver Biopsy: In this test, the doctor takes a small sample of the liver tissue for examination. It will help the doctor for diagnosis of the disease.

Treatment of Fatty Liver:

There is no specific medication or surgery to treat the Fatty Liver; instead the doctor gives recommendations according to the underlying cause which also reduces the risk factors. If the underlying cause is obesity then the doctor suggests increasing the physical activity and eliminating certain foods from the diet. It results in reducing the calories which helps in losing the weight and ultimately healing the liver. Some of these recommendations may include:

  • Limit the use of alcohol
  • Manage cholesterol level
  • Lose weight
  • Control blood sugar level
  • Eliminate or reduce fatty foods or foods that are high in sugar from the diet
  • Eat healthy foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains
  • Replace red meats with white meats such as chicken or fish

Taking measures to control the risk factors of developing Fatty Liver is one of the best ways to protect the liver from any damage or disease.

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