What is a Fatty Liver?

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  • Written By: Jacquelyn Gilchrist
  • Edited By: Michelle Arevalo
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2016
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A fatty liver is a condition in which the liver accumulates an excess of fat. Livers will naturally contain some fat. If the fat accumulation is more than 10% of the liver’s total weight, however, this is considered a fatty liver. Sometimes, this condition may not result in medical complications, but this is not always the case.

One of the possible complications of this condition is steatohepatitis, which is the inflammation of the liver. This may lead to liver damage. A damaged liver may become hardened and scarred, which is a condition called cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can be a serious medical condition that may result in liver failure. A patient with untreated liver failure may experience swelling of the brain, bleeding disorders, and infections.

This condition will not directly result in any symptoms, however, symptoms due to liver damage may become noticeable. If the damage to the liver becomes severe, which may take years, the patient may experience fatigue, abdominal discomfort, and weight loss. Some patients may also have confusion and general weakness.

There are two general types of fatty liver. If the condition is due to alcohol abuse, it is referred to as alcoholic fatty liver. When the condition is caused by other factors, it is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).


This condition may be caused by more than one factor. Alcohol abuse often causes it. A diet that is excessively high in fat may help contribute to the condition, however, it cannot be the sole cause. Malnutrition and rapid weight loss may also be contributing factors. Other medical conditions may also be associated with this, such as diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity.

Diagnosis may be incidental, as it does not cause symptoms by itself. More likely, a patient will have blood tests run for other reasons, and the doctor may notice an abnormality. A physician may also discover an enlarged liver during a physical exam. Patients will likely need to undergo additional tests, such as an x-ray or ultrasound. To confirm the diagnosis, the doctor will also need to take a liver biopsy, or a small sample of tissue, to test.

There is no standard treatment for this condition. Instead, the treatment plan will depend on the factors causing the condition. If the condition is caused by alcohol abuse, the patient will need to take steps to cease drinking. Typically, about six weeks of being sober is sufficient for the liver to decrease its fat content.

If the patient is overweight or obese, a doctor can help the patient develop a low-fat diet plan to safely lose weight. Regular exercise can also help reduce this condition. If the patient has high blood cholesterol, he may be prescribed cholesterol-lowering medications. Patients who are in the process of healing their liver should have regular medical checkups to evaluate progress.


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How do I care for a fatty liver and what are the things I need to keep in mind?

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