While it’s normal for the liver to have a little fat in it, when too much fatty tissue accumulates in the liver, it can cause serious medical problems, including liver failure. This is called fatty liver disease, and there are two primary types:
alcoholic liver disease, which is caused by excessive alcohol consumption, either over a longer period of time or during a period of binge-drinking
non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (also called hepatic steatosis), which occurs more commonly among older people, people who are obese and people with viral hepatitis or inherited or autoimmune liver disease, as well as those who take certain medications or are malnourished
Fatty liver disease is very common, affecting more than 3 million people each year.
Fatty liver disease often causes no or very few symptoms in its early stages. As the disease progresses, it can cause:
loss of appetite
jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
Fatty liver disease may be diagnosed during a physical exam when the doctor notices a slight swelling or tenderness in the area of the liver. It can also be diagnosed with a routine blood test developed to assess the function of the liver. When liver disease is suspected, a biopsy procedure may be performed to extract a small tissue sample from the liver using a hollow needle. Ultrasound imaging may also be recommended.
Fatty liver disease is usually treated with lifestyle changes, including:
gradually losing excess weight
eating a healthy diet low in processed sugars
being more physically active
quitting drinking (even for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)
Most patients should also be vaccinated against hepatitis B and C. Patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease who develop significant liver damage or cirrhosis may need a liver transplant. Although no drugs are currently available to specifically treat fatty liver disease, several possible therapies are being evaluated.
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