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Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease is a common condition caused by the storage of extra fat in the liver. Most people have no symptoms, and it doesn’t cause serious problems for them. In some cases, though, it can lead to liver damage. The good news is you can often prevent or even reverse fatty liver disease with lifestyle changes.
What is the liver’s function?
Your liver is an essential organ with multiple life-supporting functions. The liver:
Produces bile, which helps with digestion.
Makes proteins for the body.
Converts nutrients into energy.
Creates substances that help your blood clot (stick together to heal wounds).
Helps you resist infections by making immune factors and removing bacteria and toxins (substances that can harm your body) from your blood.
What is fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is a common condition caused by having too much fat build up in your liver. A healthy liver contains a small amount of fat. It becomes a problem when fat reaches 5% to 10% of your liver’s weight.
Why is fatty liver disease bad?
In most cases, fatty liver disease doesn’t cause any serious problems or prevent your liver from functioning normally. But for 7% to 30% of people with the condition, fatty liver disease gets worse over time. It progresses through three stages:
Your liver becomes inflamed (swollen), which damages its tissue. This stage is called steatohepatitis.
Scar tissue forms where your liver is damaged. This process is called fibrosis.
Extensive scar tissue replaces healthy tissue. At this point, you have cirrhosis of the liver.
Cirrhosis of the liver
Cirrhosis of the liver is a result of severe damage to the liver. The hard scar tissue that replaces healthy liver tissue slows down the liver’s functioning. Eventually, it can block liver function entirely. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.
What are the forms of fatty liver disease?
There are two main forms of fatty liver disease:
Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease
Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease is caused by heavy drinking. (Moderate drinking is defined as one drink a day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.) About 5% of people in the U.S. have this form of liver disease.
Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease
Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs in people who aren’t heavy drinkers. The condition affects one in three adults and one in 10 children in the United States. Researchers haven’t found the exact cause of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease. Several factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can increase your risk.
SYMPTOMS AND CAUSES
Who gets fatty liver disease?
You have a greater chance of developing fatty liver disease if you:
Are of Hispanic or Asian descent.
Have completed menopause (your periods have stopped).
Have obesity with a high level of belly fat.
Have high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol.
Have obstructive sleep apnea (a blocked airway that causes breathing to stop and start during sleep).
What causes fatty liver disease?
Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions. But these risk factors make you more likely to develop it:
Having Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance.
Having metabolic syndrome (insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and high triglyceride levels).
Taking certain prescription medications, such as amiodarone (Cordarone®), diltiazem (Cardizem®), tamoxifen (Nolvadex®) or steroids.