How Serious Is a Fatty Liver?

Reviewed on 10/29/2020

What Is a Fatty Liver?

A fatty liver (steatosis) refers to conditions that involve a buildup of fats in the liver, such as:

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is not caused by consumption of alcohol
    • Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL): there is fat buildup in the liver, but it is not inflamed
    • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): there is fat buildup in the liver, and it is inflamed
  • Alcohol-related fatty liver disease is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol 

What Are Symptoms of a Fatty Liver?

Most people with nonalcoholic and alcoholic fatty liver disease have no symptoms.

Symptoms in early stages of alcoholic fatty liver disease may include tiredness or aches in the upper right side of the abdomen. 

Alcoholic fatty liver disease may progress to more severe forms including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. 

Symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis include: 

Symptoms of cirrhosis include those of alcoholic hepatitis, as well as:

What Causes a Fatty Liver?

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease is caused by excessive consumption of alcohol.

The cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is unknown but it occurs more frequently in people with certain conditions, such as: 

How Is a Fatty Liver Diagnosed?

Many people who have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease have no symptoms and it is discovered when they get routine tests for other conditions. If nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is suspected, or alcohol-related liver disease is suspected based on a patient’s history of alcohol abuse, tests may include: 

QUESTION

Long-term heavy alcohol consumption can cause: See Answer

What Is the Treatment for a Fatty Liver?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is usually treated by addressing medical conditions that are often associated with NASH:

If you take a medication that may cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, your doctor may switch medications (never stop taking a prescribed medication without first talking to your doctor)

  • Alcohol-related fatty liver disease is treated with:
  • Abstinence from alcohol
  • Nutrition therapy
  • Medications to help reduce liver inflammation
  • Liver transplant for patients with advanced alcoholic cirrhosis

What Are Complications of a Fatty Liver?

Complications of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include: 

  • Cirrhosis of the liver, a condition that involves serious scarring of the liver

Complications from alcohol-related fatty liver disease can be serious and occur after years of heavy drinking and may include:

How Do You Prevent a Fatty Liver?

If fatty liver is caused by drinking, it can be prevented by avoiding alcohol consumption. 

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Reviewed on 10/29/2020
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