Fatty Liver

Fatty liver (liver steatosis) is a relatively common condition affecting the liver tissue. As the name suggests, it means the accumulation of fat particles in the liver, which may impair their functions and cause irreversible liver damage.


There are many causes that trigger this process. In our situation, fatty liver may be caused by excessive alcohol consumption (in such case it is a form of alcoholic liver damage) or by non-alcohol related causes (then we speak about the non-alcoholic steatohepatitis). Higher risk of fatty liver is in obese individuals with high cholesterol level and people with diabetes. Liver steatosis may be also caused by some medications (corticosteroids).


Quite special is a status known as the Reye's syndrome. It is a deadly and acute form of fatty liver, which is accompanied by acute liver failure. It occurs in children who were treated by aspirin. Therefore, it is strictly prohibited to administer aspirin to children below 18.


The fatty liver may not manifest in any way and it may do no harm to the patient. Usually, it is just an incidental finding during a routine ultrasound examination of the abdomen. Sometimes, the fatty liver may be associated with chronic non-infectious inflammation of the liver tissue manifesting with nausea, slight abdominal pain and liver enlargement. Some forms of the condition may even progress into liver cirrhosis associated with jaundice and other signs of chronic liver failure (see the related article).


The fatty liver may be clearly visible by the abdominal ultrasound. We should do basic blood tests to evaluate the liver tests. When they are normal, no other examination is usually needed. However, the elevated liver tests require further examination such as the liver biopsy. The liver biopsy allows to obtain a sample of liver tissue for histological examination to ascertain a presence of chronic liver inflammation and its severity.


The treatment of hepatic steatosis is relatively difficult. it is advisable not to drink alcohol, eat healthy and reduce weight. The patient may be also administered hepatoprotective drugs, but their effect is mainly supplemental. Rarer forms when the condition progresses into liver cirrhosis are treated similarly like cirrhosis of other causes (see the related article).


Jiri Stefanek, MD  Author of texts: Jiri Stefanek, MD
 Contact: jiri.stefanek@seznam.cz
 Sources: basic text sources