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FATTY LIVER

WHAT IS FATTY LIVER?

Fatty liver refers to excessive fat storage in the liver which may lead to liver inflammation, cirrhosis, and liver cancers.

Background

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the official medical term used for the condition known as fatty liver and is seen worldwide.

Statistically, fatty liver is the most common liver disorder in Western industrialized countries. In the United States, studies report a prevalence as high as 46% in the general population. More severe liver disease may occur in up to 5% of these patients.

As a side note, chronic alcohol use can also cause fatty changes in the liver. So in this section, we are referring to fatty liver in individuals who do not drink alcohol excessively.

Causes

Most common causes of increased storage of fat in the liver:

  • The individual being overweight
  • Diabetes
  • Elevated cholesterol

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF FATTY LIVER?

In most patients, fatty liver is diagnosed while undergoing routine lab work or discovered after a CT scan or ultrasound of the abdomen. There are typically no physical symptoms.

HOW IS FATTY LIVER DIAGNOSED?

Testing

Lab Work – Perform a Comprehensive Liver Panel to verify no other identifiable causes of liver test abnormalities.

Imaging – CT scan or Ultrasound to confirm fatty changes and assess severity.

Liver Biopsy – In selected cases a sample of the liver may be needed to confirm diagnosis and assess severity.

HOW IS FATTY LIVER TREATED?

Treatment

For overweight patients – Weight loss is by far the most important intervention that can help reduce the severity of fatty liver.

Other Important Actions

  • Begin medication to treat elevated cholesterol
  • Better compliance with treating and monitoring diabetics


Nutrition/Weight Management

For individuals needing assistance with losing weight to prevent liver disease, please see our medical programs for Nutrition Planning and Weight Management.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION & RESOURCES

Research

Genomic science may play a role in determining which patients may be more sensitive to fatty liver and may be at risk for other complications.

Community

Stay up to date on new guidelines, diet, nutrition, and research regarding fatty liver by following us on social media and keeping an eye out for new blogs.

FAQs

This condition is associated with diabetes, elevated cholesterol, or being overweight.

The liver is a very important storage organ and when cholesterol, fats, and glucose levels are elevated, the liver will deposit the excess and save for later use.

Additional causes of fatty liver can be related to medication side effects and excessive alcohol consumption.

In some cases, excess fat in the liver can cause inflammation and even cirrhosis. Fatty liver (not related to alcohol use) causing liver inflammation is called NASH (Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis). If NASH goes untreated it may lead to cirrhosis of the liver.
Cirrhosis indicates that the liver has become scarred and may no longer be functioning normally. A number of tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI, and liver biopsy can be used to help determine if liver injury has occurred.
Patients with elevated liver enzymes often undergo a battery of tests to ensure there are no other causes of their condition. Other conditions to consider when evaluating a patient with increased liver enzymes include:
  • Hepatitis B and C
  • Hemochromatosis
  • Wilson Disease
  • Primary Biliary Cirrhosis
  • Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis
  • Autoimmune Hepatitis
  • & others
The good news is that fatty liver and NASH are very treatable. A program that focuses on weight management, control of diabetes, and high cholesterol can be very effective. There are also medications that may be helpful in improving this condition.