What is fatty liver?

Although alcohol use is commonly associated with fat accumulation in the liver, fatty liver disease in this discussion refers to the accumulation of excess fat in the liver, specifically in the absence of excess alcohol consumption. The liver is an organ in the digestive system that assists the digestive process and carries out many other essential functions. These functions include producing bile to help break down food into energy; creating essential substances, such as hormones; cleaning toxins from the blood, including those from medication, alcohol and drugs; and controlling fat storage and cholesterol production and release.

When fat accumulates in the liver of someone who drinks little or no alcohol, the symptom is usually considered to be part of a group of conditions called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that affects up to 20% of adults. It is the most common liver disorder among adults in industrialized countries. Within this group, some people develop a more serious condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), in which the liver cells become inflamed and, in some cases, are replaced by scar tissue. Once the scarring, or cirrhosis, occurs, the liver begins to sustain permanent damage. (Source: ACG).

You are at greater risk for developing NAFLD if you are obese and have diabetes, elevated blood lipids (high cholesterol and triglycerides), metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure. As the rate of obesity has grown rapidly, NAFLD and NASH have become more prevalent.

The causes of NASH are not fully understood, but most researchers support the notion of insulin resistance. Most people with NAFLD do not have symptoms of the condition. If NASH develops, symptoms of liver inflammation (hepatitis) may occur.

Seek immediate medical care (call 911) for serious symptoms of liver disease, such as constant weakness, dizziness, confusion, difficulty thinking or understanding, extreme fatigue, fainting, fever (especially if combined with a swollen abdomen or swollen legs), vomiting blood, or blood in your stool.

Seek prompt medical care if you have been treated for obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, or high blood pressure and you have symptoms that include extreme fatigue, feeling of fullness or pain in the middle or upper right side of your abdomen, abdominal pain, nausea with or without vomiting, nosebleeds or bleeding gums, pale or clay-colored stools, small red blood vessels on the skin, yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, unexplained weight loss, or weakness.


What other symptoms might occur with fatty liver?

Fatty liver may accompany other symptoms, which vary depending on the underlying disease, disorder or condition. Symptoms that frequently affect the digestive tract may also involve other body systems.

Common liver and digestive system symptoms

Symptoms that frequently affect the liver and digestive system may accompany fatty liver. These include:


What causes fatty liver?

Conditions that are associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are obesity, diabetes, elevated blood lipids (high cholesterol and triglycerides), metabolic syndrome, and high blood pressure. The reasons why this condition may progress to the more serious form, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NAS... Read more about fatty livercauses

Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Annual Review Date: Aug 9, 2013 Copyright: © Copyright 2014 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.

This Article is Filed Under: Digestive System

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