Fatty liver disease comes in two main forms. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. You can also get alcohol-related liver disease, which is liver damage that is caused by drinking too much alcohol. If detected and managed at an early stage, NAFLD can be stopped from getting worse and the amount of fat in your liver can be reduced.
A healthy liver should contain little or no fat, though the NHS estimates up to one in every three people in the UK has early stages of NAFLD, where there are small amounts of fat in their liver.
There’s not currently any medicine that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.
A doctor will help diagnose your condition correctly and give you the right advice and care plan.
If you develop severe cirrhosis, stage four fatty liver disease, and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant.
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British Liver Trust notes: “NAFLD often causes no symptoms. This is especially true in the early stages.”
Nonetheless, if you have early stage NAFLD you may experience tiredness or discomfort in the upper right part of your abdomen, where your liver is.
It adds that people with a liver condition who develop yellowness of the eyes and skin, itching skin or find that they are bruising easily, “should seek urgent medical attention”.
The American liver foundation says that if more than five to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver.
Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions, though most people who have it are overweight.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides.
People are more likely to develop NAFLD as a result of a number of factors. For example, if you are insulin resistant, as people can be when they have polycystic ovary syndrome.
Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of other health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
If detected and managed at an early stage, NAFLD can be stopped from getting worse and the amount of fat in your liver can be reduced.
Most people will only ever develop the first stage, very often without realising it.
In a small number of cases, it can progress and lead to liver damage if not detected and managed.
The British Liver Trust says: “You might only find out you have a fatty liver when it is diagnosed during tests for another health problem.”
It also says: “NAFLD can be reversed by removing the root cause and giving the liver a chance to repair itself. For most people with NAFLD this means losing weight through healthy eating and physical activity.”
Acute fatty liver disease is not the same as NAFLD. Acute fatty liver can occur suddenly during pregnancy (acute fatty liver of pregnancy or AFLP) or due to certain drugs or toxins.
AFLP is a very rare condition. It occurs in about one in 20,000 pregnancies and the charity says that is more common in first pregnancies, male babies and twins.
Treatment for alcohol related fatty liver disease involves stopping drinking alcohol. The NHS says that if you have fatty liver disease, the damage may be reversed if you abstain from alcohol for at least two weeks.