What Are the Causes of Fatty Liver?


Your liver is the second largest organ in your body and performs numerous vital roles, like filtering blood, producing bile, and processing glucose. Long-term damage to this organ can cause cirrhosis of the liver, a medical problem where fibrotic (scar) tissue replaces healthy areas of tissue in an individual's liver. Several conditions and liver diseases might cause cirrhosis of the liver. A common disease, fatty liver disease is a health concern for about one in four U.S. citizens and is increasing within the population.

Roughly 20 – 40% of Americans are affected by a fatty liver condition. If you or someone you love may be at a greater risk for having fatty liver disease, a professional evaluation could set you on the path to addressing the damage caused by this health concern. The experienced gastrointestinal (GI) doctors at Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology routinely diagnose fatty liver disease. Schedule an appointment with a digestive health physician at our Indianapolis, IN practice to discover more about this concerning but preventable health issue.

What should I know about fatty liver disease?

Having a fatty liver condition indicates that there is too much fat in the liver. While having a small amount of fat in the liver may be of no concern, a fat constitution of more than 5% could lead to inflammation and cirrhosis, which is known as hepatic steatosis. The main types of fatty liver disease are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).

Common risk factors for fatty liver

Consuming alcohol in excess might cause an overabundance of fat in the liver. If this occurrence causes scar tissue or inflammation, it is typically referred to as alcoholic steatohepatitis. When Indianapolis, IN individuals consume little to no alcohol, the general underlying health factors for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)

  • Elevated cholesterol

  • Type 2 diabetes

  • Being overweight

If NAFLD causes inflammation and injury to the cells in the liver, it is referred to as NASH or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is on course to bypass hepatitis C as the number one need for liver transplants in the United States.

How can I identify the signs and symptoms of a fatty liver condition?

Generally, a patient who has a fatty liver condition is likely to present no noticeable symptoms or signs. When signs and symptoms are evident, however, they could potentially point to considerable hepatic injuries. Those symptoms could include:

  • Lethargy

  • Yellowing of the eyes or skin

  • A change in bowel movements

  • An unusual color to the urine

  • Swelling in the abdomen and ankles

  • Feeling nauseous

If you or a member of your family is noticing any of these health concerns, reach out to Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology and have a gastrointestinal specialist assess the condition. In the absence of care, fatty liver disease could transition into cirrhosis, which could manifest with other health issues, like ascites (the accumulation of fluid in the abdominal area), the swelling of veins in the esophagus, hepatic encephalopathy (impaired brain function resulting from liver disease), liver cancer, and ultimately, the need for liver transplant surgery.

Can fatty liver disease be treated?

For many patients, the best ways to address hepatic steatosis frequently involve a proper diet and exercise. Those who have AFLD should avoid further alcohol consumption, which can halt the advancement of a fatty liver. Abstaining from alcoholic beverages is also suggested when a person's fatty liver disease is not related to alcohol use. If you have been diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, dropping 10% of your entire body weight can significantly reduce the fat level in your liver. Routine aerobic activities are also known to help minimize this fat buildup. Additionally, eating a healthy nutritional intake can both help control concerns that are risk factors for a fatty liver (like elevated cholesterol and diabetes) and reduce fat in the liver.

Find expert care for fatty liver disease in Indianapolis, IN

A fatty liver can advance to life-threatening fibrotic tissue accumulation and liver failure in the absence of professional care. If fatty liver disease may be placing your health at risk, please contact Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology in Indianapolis, IN to learn more about the methods used to address this concern. Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology features a team of GI doctors who put the safety, health, and comfort of their patients first.