What are the Most Common Fatty Liver Causes?

Matthew Brodsky

Fatty liver, also known as steatosis, occurs when certain types of fats build up in abnormal levels inside liver cells. Medical experts have pinpointed several common fatty liver causes, including the abuse of alcohol, diabetes and other metabolic problems, certain medications and obesity. Left untreated, fatty liver disease (FLD) can lead to more serious conditions such as scarring and cirrhosis.

Several types of liver disease, including hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease).
Several types of liver disease, including hepatic steatosis (fatty liver disease).

With all of the fatty liver causes, the symptoms of the condition tend to be the same and can include fatigue or discomfort in the abdominal area. Sometimes, though, steatosis can have no symptoms at all. A doctor can detect the condition by feeling an enlarged liver during a physical exam. The most reliable way to determine whether someone has fatty liver disease is a liver biopsy done by a medical professional. This can confirm the diagnosis and perhaps uncover the fatty liver causes.

Obesity may cause steatosis.
Obesity may cause steatosis.

Upon diagnosis, the doctor is likely to ask the patient whether they have a history of excessive alcohol abuse, because it is one of the leading fatty liver causes. If this is the case, simply stopping the alcohol abuse could be enough to reverse the condition in as few as six weeks. With continued alcohol abuse, however, the fatty liver disease can then lead to more serious conditions, such as cirrhosis and liver failure.

Many fatty liver causes are not related to alcohol. So-called non-alcoholic FLD is relatively common, but a more serious and rarer version of it is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, which can lead to liver failure. In both the more common and the more severe forms of the condition, fat builds up in the liver cells because of the liver's inability to break down those fats.

There are several non-alcoholic fatty liver causes, including gastric bypass surgery, malnutrition, environmental toxins, certain prescription medicines, obesity, diabetes and the so-called metabolic syndrome. This latter condition occurs when people are overweight and develop insulin resistance as well as build up dangerous levels of triglycerides in the blood. For these fatty liver causes, doctors might recommend losing weight, eating a healthier diet or taking diabetes medicine in a prescribed fashion in order to reduce the level of fats in the liver.

Another rare type of fatty liver is called microvesicular steatosis, which occurs in otherwise healthy pregnant women. It is believed to be inherited. Women who are diagnosed with it could be in danger of more serious liver conditions.

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