Fatty liver disease is a common condition caused by the storage of extra fat in the liver. Most people have no symptoms, and it doesn’t cause serious problems for them. In some cases, though, it can lead to liver damage. The good news is you can often prevent or even reverse fatty liver disease with lifestyle changes.
There are two main forms of fatty liver disease:
Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease
Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease is caused by heavy drinking. (Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.) About 5% of people in the U.S. have this form of liver disease.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs in people who aren’t heavy drinkers. The condition affects one in three adults and one in 10 children in the United States. Researchers haven’t found the exact cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Several factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can increase your risk.
Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions. But these risk factors make you more likely to develop it:
Having Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
Having metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels).
Taking certain prescription medications, such as amiodarone (Cordarone), diltiazem (Cardizem), tamoxifen (Nolvadex) or steroids.
Abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness in the upper right side of the abdomen (belly).
Nausea, loss of appetite or weight loss.
Yellowish skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice).
Swollen abdomen and legs (edema).
Extreme tiredness or mental confusion.
Because fatty liver disease often has no symptoms, your doctor may be the first one to spot it. Higher levels of liver enzymes (elevated liver enzymes) that turn up on a blood test for other conditions may raise a red flag. Elevated liver enzymes are a sign your liver is injured. To make a diagnosis, your doctor may order:
Ultrasound or computed tomography (CT scan) to get a picture of the liver.
Liver biopsy (tissue sample) to determine how far advanced liver disease has progressed.
FibroScan, a specialized ultrasound sometimes used instead of a liver biopsy to find out the amount of fat and scar tissue in the liver.
Stay at a healthy weight. If you have overweight/obesity, lose weight gradually.
Limit your alcohol consumption.
Take medications as prescribed.
There’s no medication specifically for fatty liver disease. Instead, doctors focus on helping you control factors that contribute to the condition. They also recommend making lifestyle changes that can significantly improve your health. Treatment includes:
Taking medications to control diabetes, cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood).
Taking vitamin E and thiazolidinediones (drugs used to treat diabetes such as Actos and Avandia) in specific instances.