Phone icon.
The Endoscopy Center, Inc.:

(605) 721-8121

Map pin pointer icon.
Address :

2820 Mt. Rushmore Road
Rapid City, SD 57701

Fatty Liver Disease

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Also called hepatic steatosis, fatty liver disease means you have extra fat in your liver.

Fatty liver disease is broken down into Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Alcohol-Related Fatty Liver Disease (ALD).

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is divided into two types:

  • Simple fatty liver – there is fat in the liver, but there is no inflammation in the liver or damage to the liver cells. This is the most common form of NAFLD and it usually doesn’t cause problems.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – more serious than simple fatty liver as there is also inflammation in the liver. The inflammation and liver cell damage with NASH can cause fibrosis and cirrhosis (types of scarring) and liver cancer.

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease (ALD) is preventable and usually improves with cessation of alcohol. ALD can lead to the following serious problems if drinking is continued:

  • Enlarged liver – may be asymptomatic but may cause pain or discomfort on the upper right side of the abdomen.
  • Alcoholic hepatitis – swelling in the liver that can cause fever, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and jaundice (yellowish skin and eyes).
  • Alcoholic cirrhosis – buildup of scar tissue in the liver. It can cause the same symptoms as alcoholic hepatitis and:
    • Large amounts of fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascities)
    • Elevated blood pressure in the liver
    • Bleeding in the body
    • Confusion and changes in behavior
    • Enlarged spleen
    • Liver failure – can be fatal

Alcohol-related fatty liver disease can progress to alcoholic hepatitis and alcoholic cirrhosis if left untreated and heavy drinking is continued.

What are the symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease?

What are the symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease?

Some people may have signs of tiredness or pain in the upper abdomen in the liver area, but most have no symptoms with fatty liver disease.

If you have NASH or get cirrhosis, the following symptoms may occur:

  • Swollen abdomen
  • Enlarged blood vessels underneath the skin
  • Larger-than-normal breasts in men
  • Red palms
  • Skin and eyes that appear yellowish (jaundice)
What are the causes and risk factors of Fatty Liver Disease?

What are the causes and risk factors of Fatty Liver Disease?

The reason why some people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) get simple fatty liver while others get NASH isn’t known. NAFLD or NASH is more likely if:

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance or Type 2 diabetes
  • High levels of triglycerides or bad (LDL) cholesterol
  • Low levels of good (HDL) cholesterol
  • Older age
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
  • Malnutrition
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Exposure to certain toxins and chemicals
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Less common reasons include:
    • Medical conditions that affect how fat is used and stored
    • Hepatitis C or other infections
    • Rapid weight loss
    • Certain medications
    • Gallbladder removal

For Alcohol-related fatty liver disease (ALD), the cause is too much alcohol. There is an increased risk of ALD when there is too much alcohol and:

  • Obesity
  • Malnutrition
  • Chronic viral hepatitis – especially Hepatitis C
  • Heredity
  • African-American or Hispanic male
  • Age – the older you are, the more likely it becomes.
How is Fatty Liver Disease diagnosed?

How is Fatty Liver Disease diagnosed?

Some of the things used to diagnose fatty liver disease are:

  • Health History – alcohol use, medication history, nutrition, other health conditions
  • Physical exam – weight, signs of liver problems (enlarged liver or jaundice)
  • Blood tests – elevated liver enzymes – aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • Imaging tests – ultrasound, computerized tomography (CT) scans, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Fibroscan – determines the degree of scarring in the liver
  • Liver biopsy – sample tissue is sent to lab to determine inflammation or damage
What is the treatment for Fatty Liver Disease?

What is the treatment for Fatty Liver Disease?

Currently there are no medications approved for NAFLD, though some are in clinical trials. For those with cirrhosis or liver failure, a liver transplant may be necessary.

Lifestyle changes can help improve or prevent fatty liver disease:

  • Lose weight – 3%-5% loss can cut down on fat accumulation in the liver
  • Drink in moderation or quit drinking
  • Exercise – 30 minutes a day most days of the week
  • Liver care – skip alcohol, take medications and over-the-counter drugs as directed, be mindful of herbal remedies and speak with physician, check prior to mixing alcohol and medications
  • Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Manage diabetes
  • Prevent Hepatitis C
  • Maintain good nutrition
What are the complications of Fatty Liver Disease?

What are the complications of Fatty Liver Disease?

The main complication for all types of fatty liver disease is cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Scarring occurs when the liver tries to stop the inflammation associated with fatty liver disease. When the scarring becomes severe, the liver can’t do its job and the following may occur:

  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)
  • Swollen veins in the esophagus that can burst and bleed (varices)
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

Meet Our Providers

Meet Our Advanced Practice Providers