Fatty liver is just what its name suggests: the build-up of fat in the liver cells. Although this is not a normal condition, fat in the liver usually causes no damage by itself. However, on some occasions it can be a sign that other more harmful conditions are at work. Fatty liver may be associated with or may lead to inflammation of the liver. This can cause scarring and hardening of the liver. When scarring becomes extensive, it is called cirrhosis, and this is a very serious condition.
What are the Risk Factors for Fatty Liver?
There are many causes of fatty liver, including:
- Diabetes mellitus
- High triglycerides
- Heavy alcohol use
- Intestinal bypass surgery for obesity
- Excess vitamin A
- Certain medications (valproic acid, corticosteroids)
- Complication of pregnancy
What are the Symptoms of Fatty Liver?
There are usually no symptoms that are noticeable to the patient.
How is Fatty Liver Diagnosed?
Fatty liver is frequently uncovered during a routine physical examination. There may be a rise in certain liver enzymes found in the blood, and sometimes the liver is slightly enlarged. Fatty liver may also be discovered while the physician is evaluating a patient for other illnesses. For example, an ultrasound exam of the abdomen done for other reasons may show fat in the liver. To be certain of a diagnosis of fatty liver, the physician may recommend a liver biopsy.
What is the Treatment for Fatty Liver?
In most instances, treatment of fatty liver requires control of the underlying conditions. This may include the reduction of high blood triglycerides, good control of diabetes, or not drinking alcohol. In some cases, a surgical reversal of intestinal bypass for obesity is required. Since being overweight is by far the most critical factor, weight loss is the key to ridding the liver of fat. This is especially necessary if damage to the liver is occurring, and early signs of scarring are present on biopsy.