Fatty liver disease - Thumbay University Hospital

Fatty liver disease

The fatty liver disease is a common condition caused by the storage of excess fat in the liver. Most people have no symptoms and it does not cause the serious problems. However, in some cases, it can lead to liver damage. The good news is that you can often prevent or even reverse fatty liver disease through lifestyle changes.


What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is a common condition caused by the buildup of too much fat in the liver. A healthy liver contains the small amount of fat. It becomes a problem when fat reaches 5% to 10% of the liver’s weight.

Why is fatty liver disease bad?

In most cases, fatty liver disease does not cause any serious problems or prevent the liver from working normally. But for 7% to 30% of people with this condition, the fatty liver disease gets worse over time. It progresses through three stages:

  • The liver becomes inflamed (swollen), damaging its tissues. This stage is called steatohepatitis.
  • Scar tissue forms where the liver is damaged. This process is called fibrosis.
  • Extensive scar tissue replaces healthy tissue. At this point, you have cirrhosis.


Cirrhosis is caused by severe damage to the liver. Hard scar tissue that replaces healthy liver tissue slows down the functioning of the liver. Ultimately, it can completely hamper liver function. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and the liver cancer.

What are the forms of fatty liver disease?

There are two main types of the fatty liver disease:

1. Alcoholic liver disease

Alcoholic fatty liver is the buildup of the fat in the liver as a result of excessive alcohol consumption. (Moderate drinking is defined as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.) About 5% of people in the United States have this type of liver disease.

2. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects people who don’t drink a lot. The condition affects one in three adults and one in the 10 children in the United States. Researchers have not found the exact cause of the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Several factors, such as the obesity and the diabetes, can increase your risk.

Who gets fatty liver disease?

You have a higher chance of developing fatty liver disease if you:

  • They are of Hispanic or Asian descent.
  • You are a postmenopausal woman (a woman whose periods have stopped).
  • You are obese with a high percentage of belly fat.
  • You suffer from the high blood pressure, diabetes or the high cholesterol.
  • You have obstructive sleep apnea (a blocked airway that causes breathing to stop and start during sleep).

What causes fatty liver disease?

Some people develop the fatty liver disease without having any preexisting conditions. But these risk factors make you more likely to get it:

  • Obesity or being overweight.
  • Having type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
  • The Metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels).
  • Take certain prescription medications, such as amiodarone (Cordarone), diltiazem (Cardizem), tamoxifen (Nolvadex®), or steroids.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

People with the fatty liver disease often have no symptoms until the disease progresses to cirrhosis. If you have symptoms, they may also include:

  • Abdominal pain or a feeling of fullness in the upper right side of the tummy (abdomen).
  • Nausea, loss of appetite or weight loss.
  • Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes.
  • Flatulence of the abdomen and legs (edema).
  • Extreme tiredness or mental confusion.

How is fatty liver disease treated?

There is no specific medication for fatty liver disease. Instead, doctors focus on helping you control the factors that contribute to this condition. They also recommend making the lifestyle changes that can significantly improve your health. Treatment includes:

  • Avoid alcohol.
  • Lose weight.
  • Take medications to control diabetes, cholesterol, and triglycerides (fats in the blood).
  • Take vitamin E and thiazolidinedione’s (medicines used to treat diabetes such as Actos® and Avandia®) for certain conditions.

How can fatty liver disease be prevented?

The best way to avoid the fatty liver disease is to do the things that maintain overall health:

  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or the obese, lose weight gradually.
  • I exercise regularly.
  • Reduce your alcohol consumption.
  • Take medications as prescribed.

Can fatty liver disease be treated?

If you avoid alcohol or lose weight, it is possible to reduce liver fat and inflammation and reverse early liver damage.

Will Fatty Liver Disease Kill You?

Fatty liver disease does not cause major problems for most people. However, it can turn into a more serious problem if it develops into cirrhosis. Untreated cirrhosis eventually leads to liver failure or liver cancer. Your liver is the organ you cannot live without.

What is a good diet for fatty liver?

Eat a balanced diet to lose weight slowly but surely. The rapid weight loss can actually worsen the fatty liver disease. Doctors often recommend the Mediterranean diet, which is the high in vegetables, fruits, and good fats. Ask your doctor or dietitian for advice on healthy approaches to losing weight.

  • What questions should I ask my doctor?
  • Am I taking any medications that can contribute to fatty liver disease?
  • How much damage to the liver?
  • How long will it take to reverse liver damage?
  • What is a healthy weight for me?
  • Can I talk to a dietitian or go to classes to learn about healthy eating?
  • How can I get the treatment for alcohol use disorder?

Note from Thumbay University Hospital

Keep in mind that fatty liver disease is an early warning sign to help you avoid potentially fatal liver disease, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. Even if you do not have symptoms or any problems with liver function at this point, it is still important to take steps to stop or reverse your fatty liver disease.