Skip to content

Warning Signs You Have a "Fatty Liver," Say Experts

Everything to know about getting healthy again.

Having a healthy liver is essential for having good overall health since it's one of the most vital organs. It has several functions such as turning nutrition into energy, making proteins for the body and removing harmful toxins and bacteria. Many people have a fatty liver, which takes place when "excess fat accumulates in the liver either due to heavy alcohol intake or because of foods we eat," says Dr. Mya Bellinger, a medical practitioner who specializes in internal medicine. While fatty liver disease is a common condition that doesn't cause health issues for most people, for others if left untreated it can lead to liver damage. Read the signs of a fatty liver—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What are the Forms of Fatty Liver Disease?

doctors appointment physician shows to patient shape of liver with focus on hand with organ

The Cleveland Clinic states, "There are two main forms of fatty liver disease:

  • Alcoholic liver disease

Alcoholic fatty liver is the accumulation of fat in the liver as a result of 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.

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease 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 nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Several factors, such as obesity and diabetes, can increase your risk."


Four Stages of Fatty Liver

The doctor examines the patient.

According to Healthline, there are four stages of fatty liver disease. 

  • "Simple fatty liver. There's a buildup of excess fat in the liver. Simple fatty liver is largely harmless if it doesn't progress.
  • Steatohepatitis. In addition to excess fat, there's also inflammation in the liver.
  • Fibrosis. Persistent inflammation in the liver has now caused scarring. However, the liver can still generally function normally.
  • Cirrhosis. Scarring of the liver has become widespread, impairing the liver's ability to function. This is the most severe stage and is irreversible."

RELATED: How to Reverse Dementia Risk, According to Experts


Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

woman bloated stomach

WebMD states, "With ALD and NAFLD, there are usually no symptoms. Some people may have signs such as tiredness or pain in the upper right side of the belly where your liver is.

If you have NASH or get cirrhosis, you may have symptoms such as:

  • Swollen belly
  • Enlarged blood vessels underneath your skin
  • Larger-than-normal breasts in men
  • Red palms
  • Skin and eyes that appear yellowish, due to a condition called jaundice"

RELATED: Proven Ways to Make People Think You're Younger


Causes and Risk Factors

feet on scale

According to WebMD, "For ALD, the cause is too much alcohol. You may be even more likely to get it if you drink a lot and

  • Are obese
  • Are malnourished
  • Have chronic viral hepatitis, especially hepatitis C
  • Have genes that make you more likely to get it
  • Are an African-American or Hispanic male
  • Age — the older you are, the more likely it becomes.

The reason why some people with NAFLD have simple fatty liver and others get NASH isn't known. Genes may be a reason. NAFLD or NASH is more likely if:

  • You're overweight or obese
  • Your body doesn't respond to insulin as it should (called insulin resistance) or if you have type 2 diabetes
  • You have high levels of triglycerides or "bad" (LDL) cholesterol, or low levels of "good" (HDL) cholesterol
  • You're older
  • You have polycystic ovary syndrome
  • You have sleep apnea
  • You have an underactive thyroid (the doctor will call this hypothyroidism)
  • You have an underactive pituitary gland (you'll hear this called hypopituitarism)
  • You're malnourished
  • You've lost weight rapidly
  • You've been exposed to certain toxins and chemicals
  • You have metabolic syndrome. This is a mix of conditions that make you more likely to get type 2 diabetes and heart disease.With metabolic syndrome, you may have any three of these conditions:
  • Large waist size
  • High triglycerides or LDL cholesterol
  • Low levels of HDL (good) cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • High blood sugar

There are also some less common reasons why you may get NAFLD or NASH. They include:

  • Medical conditions that affect how your body uses or stores fat
  • Hepatitis C or other infections
  • Fast weight loss
  • Taking certain medicines such as glucocorticoids, methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), synthetic estrogen, tamoxifen (Nolvadex, Soltamox), and others
  • Gallbladder removal. Some people who have surgery to remove their gallbladder are more likely to have NAFLD."

RELATED: Surefire Ways to Stop Obesity, Says Science


Ways to Reverse a Fatty Liver


The good news is you can reverse fatty liver disease before it becomes too serious. Dr. Bellinger says, "avoid foods with added sugars-these sugars can increase fat buildup in the liver over time. These foods include soft drinks, cakes, flavored yogurts, and sugary cereals." Dr. Bellinger also suggests, "try eating an omega 3 supplement like nuts, seeds and oily fish because they contain polyunsaturated fats that may reduce liver fat and improve cholesterol levels, losing excess weight-this can be achieved through exercise or watching your diet. it's advisable to lose between 3-5 percent of the body weight so as to reduce fat buildup in the liver." And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather