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Patient Education

Fatty Liver Disease

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to a group of liver conditions.  These conditions affect those who drink very little or no alcohol and have too much fat stored in their liver cells.  A small amount of fat in the liver is normal. Fatty liver disease is diagnosed when more than 5 to 15 percent of the liver’s weight is fat.

Gastroenterology Consultants of San Antonio - Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty Liver, NAFLD, NASH, and Cirrhosis
The Spectrum of NAFLD

What is Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)?

Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is a more serious form of fatty liver disease.  With NASH, the liver becomes inflamed and can lead to scarring and irreversible damage.  This is similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol use. In severe cases, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

NASH is more likely to affect older people, those with diabetes, and those with fat concentrated around their belly.

Fatty Liver Disease Risk Factors

People who are overweight, obese, have diabetes or metabolic syndrome are more likely to develop NASH.  Fatty liver disease is becoming more common in the United States. Fatty liver affects over 80 million people in the U.S. or about 25% of the country.  It’s one of the most common causes of cirrhosis of the liver.

Excess fat in the liver can also be caused by excessive alcohol use, certain medications, or inherited liver disease.

Fatty Liver Symptoms

Most people with fatty liver disease have no signs or symptoms.  Sometimes the symptoms can include an enlarged liver, extreme fatigue, and pain in the upper right abdomen. Fatigue and abdominal pain are common symptoms of many other conditions which should be ruled out.

Fatty Liver Diagnosis

Fatty liver disease is often first suspected when overweight or obese patients have elevations in liver values during routine blood tests.  Imaging tests such as ultrasound or CT-scan may be used to confirm the diagnosis of NAFLD. Doctors use these imaging studies to look for fat accumulation in the liver.

NEW: FibroScan technology now allows GCSA physicians to evaluate the level of scar tissue in the liver.  This allows your doctor to categorize fatty liver disease into one of four stages:

  1. Fatty liver/steatosis – Fat deposits in liver cells.
  2. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – Presence of scar tissue and inflammation of the liver.
  3. Cirrhosis – Almost complete replacement of liver cells with scar tissue.
  4. Liver failure – Liver is no longer able to function and requires a transplant.

Fatty Liver Treatment

There are no specific medical treatments for fatty liver disease.  At this time, there are no medical treatments to reduce the amount of fat in the liver.  Some studies have shown that weight loss to have a positive effect.

Doctors may recommend people with NAFLD or NASH lose weight if they are overweight or obese, increase physical activity level, follow a healthy diet, and avoid alcohol.

Fatty Liver Prevention

To reduce your chances of developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, doctors recommend:

  • Eating a healthy diet:  Choose a diet that emphasizes vegetables and avoids too much sugar and alcohol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Those who are overweight or obese should reduce their daily calorie intake and exercise more.  If you’re already at a healthy weight, maintain it by eating well and exercising.
  • Exercise: Keep physical activity part of your daily routine most days.  Even a 30 minute walk every day is a good start.

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