A diagnosis for fatty liver disease often occurs when you have unexplained weight loss, fatty buildup, pain, or tenderness in your abdomen. At this point, your doctor might tell you to stop drinking alcohol for a few days and see if that helps with your symptoms.
If fatty liver disease is suspected, imaging tests can reveal fatty deposits in the liver. This information helps doctors distinguish between fatty liver disease due to excess alcohol and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- abdominal ultrasound (sonography)
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
- computed tomography (CT) scan
Abdominal ultrasound is the least expensive test, but the results are less accurate. An MRI or CT scan gives more information, including whether there are fatty deposits in your liver’s blood vessels, which could increase the risk of serious problems. The scan also produces what doctors call a “fat fraction” that can be compared with values for healthy people to see if fatty liver disease is present.
The doctor may order other tests to rule out other causes of fatty liver disease. These include
- check levels of certain enzymes in your blood
- take samples of your blood and look at them under a microscope
- check for hepatitis viruses by measuring levels of specific antibodies in your blood
Fatty liver disease is caused by fatty deposits that accumulate in the cells of your liver. Although fatty liver disease can occur in both children and adults, it’s most often associated with obesity or alcohol misuse.
Two types of fatty liver disease exist alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD), which occurs mainly in people who abuse alcohol; and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which affects many people who drink little or no alcohol at all. With NAFLD, the fatty deposits appear to be related to insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, obesity, and fatty infiltration of the liver in people with hepatitis C.
Fatty deposits can also accumulate in other areas of your body, such as your heart and pancreas. As fatty liver disease progresses, it may eventually cause scar tissue to form inside the liver. If this process goes too far, the scar tissue makes it difficult for blood to flow through your liver, which is a severe problem that requires immediate medical attention.
Treatment for fatty liver disease aims to reduce fatty deposits in your liver.
Your treatment may involve:
If you have a fatty liver, treating the underlying metabolic problem often clears up fatty-liver disease. The doctor may treat other conditions accompanying fatty liver diseases, such as high cholesterol levels or high blood pressure.
A doctor might prescribe lipid-lowering medications—such as simvastatin (Zocor), fenofibrate (Tricor), gemfibrozil (Lopid), niacin (Niaspan, Slo-Niacin), and omega fatty acids—to improve how fats are normally processed in your body.
These drugs can help lower LDL cholesterol levels and increase HDL cholesterol levels. They also appear to result in some fatty liver disease improvement.
Potential new therapies include vitamin E, which may decrease fatty deposits in the liver. Initial studies show that vitamin E may reduce liver fat in people with fatty liver when taken by mouth for six months. Although it appears to be safe, whether vitamin E will help is not known.
Complications of fatty liver disease depend on the type of fatty deposits in your liver, leading to scarring or fibrosis of the liver.
The most common complications are tiredness, weakness, and loss of appetite. Liver damage due to fatty deposits causes enzymes in your blood to rise. These are called transaminases.
Shortness of breath is also possible when fatty liver disease causes your liver to stop working correctly, which can be life-threatening. If fatty deposits in the liver press against the main blood vessel leading from the heart, causing fluid retention and swelling in your legs.
Liver failure is another severe complication when fatty deposits in the liver slowly kill off too many of your liver cells. In this case, you have to resort to a transplant or have a part of your stomach cut out and sewn onto your esophagus so food can enter your intestines directly.
Carolina Digestive Health Associates are here to support your liver health. That includes issues related to Fatty Liver. To learn more about this condition or schedule a consultation with a member of our team, please feel free to contact us.