What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is a common problem caused by the buildup of certain fats in the liver. The liver normally contains a small amount of fat. However, if more than 5 to 15 percent of the liver’s weight consists of fat, the patient has fatty liver disease.

What are the forms of fatty liver disease?

There are two main forms of fatty liver disease:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver: Fat buildup in the liver that is not linked to drinking alcohol.
  • Alcoholic fatty liver: Fat buildup in the liver due to drinking large amounts of alcohol (more than one drink per day on average for women and more than two drinks per day on average for men).

What are the effects of fatty liver disease?

In most cases, fatty liver disease does not cause any serious problems or prevent the liver from functioning normally. However, it may lead to liver damage under certain circumstances.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects up to 25 percent of people in the United States and is one of the country’s leading causes of cirrhosis of the liver. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) with fibrosis or cirrhosis is the most severe condition resulting from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. NASH is more likely to occur in people who are overweight or obese, or who have diabetes.

What are the risk factors for fatty liver disease?

A risk factor makes a person more likely to have a condition or disease. There are many risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Having type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
  • Having metabolic syndrome (excess body weight, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and high triglyceride levels)

Some genetic metabolic conditions or prescription medications, including amiodarone (Cordarone®), diltiazem (Cardizem®), steroids, and tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) also may increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If you are taking one of these medications and are diagnosed with fatty liver, your doctor might substitute another drug.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

People with fatty liver disease usually do not have any symptoms. If symptoms do appear, they may include:

  • A feeling of fullness in the middle or upper right side of the abdomen
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Swelling of the abdomen and legs (edema)
  • Mental confusion
  • Extreme fatigue or tiredness

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