What Are the Signs of a Fatty Liver?

Reviewed on 5/17/2021

A fatty liver (hepatic steatosis) is a buildup of fats in the liver caused by alcohol-related fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Most people show no signs or symptoms, but symptoms can include tiredness and aches in the upper right side of the abdomen.
A fatty liver (hepatic steatosis) is a buildup of fats in the liver caused by alcohol-related fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Most people show no signs or symptoms, but symptoms can include tiredness and aches in the upper right side of the abdomen.

A fatty liver (hepatic 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 

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

Signs and symptoms in the early stages of alcoholic fatty liver disease may include:

  • Tiredness 
  • Aches in the upper right side of the abdomen

Alcoholic fatty liver disease can progress to more severe forms including alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis (scarring) 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 signs or symptoms and it is diagnosed during routine testing 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 treated by addressing medical conditions that are often associated with NASH:

  • Weight loss in patients who are overweight or obese
  • Managing blood sugar in patients who have diabetes
  • Keeping cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check
  • If a certain medication may cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a 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

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Reviewed on 5/17/2021
References
https://www.uptodate.com/contents/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-the-basics?search=fatty%20liver&source=search_result&selectedTitle=1~150&usage_type=default&display_rank=1

https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/alcohol-related-liver-disease/