Fatty Liver: Causes, Symptoms, & Treatment

by Raksha Hegde last updated - Medically reviewed by Dr. Mahesh Gopasetty (MBBS, MS, MRCS)

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Fatty liver disease is one of the most common diseases in the world. The World Journal of Gastroenterology (September 2017) states that over 25 to 30 percent of people in the United States and Europe are diagnosed with this health condition. It is fast becoming a pandemic as levels of obesity are on the rise across regions in the world.

What is Fatty Liver?

Fatty liver, or hepatic steatosis, is the buildup of fat in the liver. There are two types of this health condition:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease (ALD), which, as the name suggests, is due to excessive intake of alcohol
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is caused due to a variety of factors. Additionally, NAFLD, according to the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, can range from simple fatty liver to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, also known as NASH.
An unhealthy-looking liver placed over a whiteboard which says 'liver diseases' at the bottom

Infections and unhealthy lifestyle can lead to liver diseases. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Causes

While the ALD is directly linked to excessive consumption of alcohol, NAFLD can be caused due to many varied factors. You can develop fatty liver if you are:

  • Overweight or obese
  • Hyperlipidemic (high levels of fat or triglycerides in the blood)
  • Type 2 diabetic

Note: You may also have this condition due to hepatotoxicity, or drug-induced liver damage, as a result of side effects of certain medications but further studies are required to verify this.

Symptoms

With alcoholic fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there are no visible symptoms and it is a silent disease. However, if you have nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the symptoms include: 

  • Swollen belly
  • Pain in the upper side of the abdomen
  • Fatigue

(Source: NIH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases)

Treatments

For ALD, it is best to talk to your doctor about ways to safely reduce your alcohol consumption with a healthy detox program. Quitting drinking is the only way to help your liver recover from damage.

For NAFLD, there are no medications as yet to help treat the health condition. Studies and clinical trials are ongoing to help understand how best to get rid of the buildup of fat in the liver. Most people do not realize that they have fatty liver disease unless it is diagnosed in a routine blood test or other diagnostic tests. For the liver to heal itself to its original healthy condition, doctors usually suggest taking physical exercise, adopting a healthy diet, and controlling obesity.

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About the Author

Raksha Hegde is the content director at Organic Facts and helps oversee a team of brilliant, dynamic content writers. She completed her MS in Broadcast Journalism from Boston University, US. A former business news journalist and editor, Raksha followed her passion for wellness to become a certified Yoga teacher and a wellness festival curator. She believes that learning is a life-long process; she did a certificate e-course on “Introduction to Food and Health” in 2019 from Stanford University, US. 

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