Fatty Liver

Fatty Liver: Overview

Fatty liver is the collection of excessive amounts of fat inside liver cells, affecting more than 50% of people over the age of 50.  Common causes are incorrect diet, excessive alcohol intake, adverse reactions to drugs and toxic chemicals, and viral hepatitis.

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Having some fat in the liver is considered normal.  However, if it exceeds 10%, you may develop the fatty liver disease.  The liver is the largest organ within the body and performs many important functions.  One of those functions is to change substances in the foods that we eat into proteins, fats and carbohydrates.  One form of fat that the liver produces is called triglycerides, which are important for new cell production for making hormones such as estrogen, testosterone and the adrenal hormones.  In cases of fatty liver, the liver cells accumulate large droplets of fat that consist of mostly triglycerides.

Causes and Development; Contributing Risk Factors

Fatty liver occurs when the liver is injured in some way, causing the liver cells to accumulate fats.  In the United States, the most common cause of fatty liver is alcohol abuse, this form being called alcoholic steatosis.  All other forms are called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and are caused by conditions including the following:

Other causes include:

  • Inherited or autoimmune liver disease
  • Malnutrition (poor diet)
  • Obesity
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Viral hepatitis
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Medications
  • Certain drug overdoses
  • Toxic chemical poisoning, for example carbon tetrachloride
  • Reye's syndrome (in children)
  • Acute fatty liver of pregnancy

Fatty liver disease is often hereditary.  It is also common in people who are overweight, and in those who have diabetes, pre-diabetes, or high cholesterol and triglycerides.

Signs and Symptoms

Fatty liver usually produces no symptoms.  In rare cases, it causes jaundice, right-side abdominal pain, abdominal swelling, and fever.  Women with pregnancy-related fatty liver may experience nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and abdominal pain.  It may also cause a condition known as pre-eclampsia or eclampsia, which is characterized by dangerously high blood pressure, swelling and seizures.

Other possible signs include:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Ascites (fluid in the abdominal cavity)
  • Liver failure

Diagnosis and Tests

The liver may be tender when the abdomen is pressed.  An enlarged liver without any other symptoms usually suggests fatty liver.  Your doctor can confirm the diagnosis with blood tests for liver function, and by performing a liver biopsy.  With a biopsy, the doctor uses a long, hollow needle to remove a small sample of liver tissue for examination under a microscope.  An ultrasound or abdominal CT scan may also be performed to evaluate your liver.

Treatment and Prevention

Treatment for fatty liver is aimed at eliminating or treating the cause of the condition.  Pregnancy-related fatty liver is treated by delivering the baby, if viable.  In cases of malnutrition, the goal is to develop a healthy diet and eat balanced meals, sometimes with the aid of vitamin and mineral supplements.

You can prevent fatty liver by maintaining a well-balanced diet and limiting alcohol consumption.  Good prenatal care will help to recognize the symptoms of fatty liver in pregnant women before the condition becomes serious.  To prevent Reye's syndrome, children should never be given aspirin to treat colds and viruses.

Other recommendations include increasing physical activity/exercise and avoiding unnecessary medications.  In severe cases, liver transplant may be recommended.

Prognosis; Complications

In many cases, fatty liver is reversible if caught early in its development.

Severe liver damage can occur if fatty liver is left untreated.  In these cases, the patient may eventually require a liver transplant.

Conditions that suggest Fatty Liver:

Symptoms - Liver / Gall Bladder


Risk factors for Fatty Liver:


Ulcerative Colitis

Scientists believe a fatty liver can occur when the immune system triggers inflammation in other parts of the body.  These problems are usually mild and go away when the colitis is treated.


Nutritional Deficiency

Malnutrition can result in an enlarged fatty liver, which can result in ascites.

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Fatty Liver suggests the following may be present:

Organ Health

Recommendations for Fatty Liver:

Botanical / Herbal


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