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May 2023

Cut Your Risk for Fatty Liver Disease

Where does fat build up in your body? You’re probably thinking of your belly or thighs. But fat can also accumulate in your organs. When this happens in your liver, it’s called fatty liver disease. 

About 25 to 30% of adults in the U.S. have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In some cases, it damages the liver, which can lead to liver cancer or failure over time. The condition also increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. A healthy lifestyle—and catching NAFLD early—may reduce your risks.

Meet your liver

Your liver filters harmful substances from your blood. That’s why drinking alcohol is so hard on the organ—it has to strain out alcohol’s toxins.

But NAFLD is not caused by alcohol. Experts don’t know exactly what leads to this disease, but it is more common in adults who are overweight, obese, or have type 2 diabetes. Normally, the liver isn’t completely free from fat. But it’s officially fatty if fat makes up more than 5% to 10% of its weight.

NAFLD often has no symptoms. However, you might experience:

  • Fatigue

  • Fullness or pain in the middle or upper right side of your abdomen

  • Weight loss

  • Nausea     

  • Swelling in the belly

  • Yellowing of skin and eyes

Your healthcare provider can diagnose fatty liver disease with blood tests, imaging tests, or a liver biopsy if you have symptoms or they think you are at high risk.

Lifestyle changes offer hope

There are no medicines approved for NAFLD. Ways to treat liver damage include:

  • Exercising.

  • Eating less fat, especially saturated and trans fats.

  • Avoiding alcohol and beverages high in sugar.

  • Lowering your blood sugar, cholesterol, and triglyceride levels, if they’re high.

  • Losing weight slowly, if needed. Quickly dropping more than 1 to 2 pounds per week may make the condition worse.     

  • Switching medicines if one you take is causing NAFLD.

These steps may also help prevent fatty liver disease if you don’t already have it. Once you’re diagnosed, your provider may recommend that you see a liver specialist.




Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2023
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