Fatty liver disease, also known as hepatic steatosis, is a condition where a person has a buildup of fat in their liver. If a person has fatty liver disease, they may require treatment from a liver specialist.
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Fatty liver disease can cause a person to have permanent scarring or damage to their liver. This is known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis of the liver can eventually lead to a person developing liver cancer.
It is important for a person to receive treatment for fatty liver disease to prevent it from progressing. There are different fatty liver disease specialists a person can speak with about treatments.
Read on to learn more about fatty liver disease specialists, including how they treat it and possible costs.
A person who has fatty liver disease may receive their initial diagnosis from a primary care physician. The primary care physician may refer the person to a hepatologist or gastroenterologist.
A hepatologist is a medical professional who specializes in conditions of the liver, gallbladder, and pancreas. Doctors sometimes consider hepatology to be a branch of gastroenterology.
Gastroenterology is an area of medicine that deals with conditions that affect the digestive organs. This includes the:
- small and large intestines
A person can have either alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) or NAFLD. Each type of fatty liver disease requires different treatments.
A hepatologist or a gastroenterologist can treat both forms of fatty liver disease.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease
AFLD can develop when a person consumes an excessive amount of alcohol.
AFLD is the first stage of alcohol-related liver disease. According to the American Liver Foundation (ALF), it is the most common alcohol-related liver condition.
A person who has AFLD will usually have no symptoms. However, AFLD can cause a person’s liver to enlarge, which can lead to discomfort in the upper right of the abdomen.
A person who has AFLD may benefit from seeing an addiction specialist if they have trouble giving up alcohol.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
The exact cause of NAFLD is currently
- certain health conditions, including obesity and type 2 diabetes
- metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity
- abnormal levels of fats in the blood
- certain genes
- a diet that contains high levels of fructose, a type of sugar that companies commonly use to sweeten food and drinks
There are two types of NAFLD a person can have.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) occurs when a person had fatty buildup in their liver but limited or no inflammation or damage. Although NAFL usually does not cause damage or complications, it can be painful.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) causes inflammation and damage to the liver. This can lead to scarring or thickening of the liver.
A hepatologist may specialize in various other conditions of the liver and pancreas, such as:
- liver, pancreatic, bile duct, or gallbladder cancer
- liver disease
- inflamed gallbladder
Gastroenterologists may choose to specialize in areas such as:
- pancreatic disease
- irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- gastrointestinal cancer
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- ulcerative colitis, which is inflammation of the colon and rectum
- diverticulitis, which is inflammation of small pouches in the intestine
Specialists can diagnose and determine how advanced a person’s fatty liver disease is. This can affect what treatment the specialist uses.
There are currently
- gradual weight loss
- eating a healthy diet
- limiting portion sizes
- physical activity
- avoiding alcohol consumption
AFLD generally goes away if a person stops drinking alcohol. If a person continues to drink, they can develop alcoholic hepatitis or alcohol-related cirrhosis.
A person who had AFLD should also try to eat healthily and ensure they are getting plenty of vitamins and nutrients.
Certain factors can influence what fatty liver disease specialist a person chooses. This includes:
- which specialists are available in their area
- appointment availability
- recommendations from friends, family, or a doctor
Both hepatologists and gastroenterologists are medical professionals. This means they require medical degrees and training.
A person should always ensure they only receive treatment from a qualified medical professional. Unlicensed physicians can be dangerous and cause a person serious harm.
To become a qualified gastroenterologist, a doctor must complete a residency in internal medicine. They must then complete a fellowship in gastroenterology.
Following their training, a doctor must pass the Gastroenterology Certification Exam. The American Board of Internal Medicine will then certify them.
A hepatologist’s qualifications are similar to those of a gastroenterologist. Once a hepatologist has completed their residency, they can complete a fellowship in either gastroenterology and hepatology or just in hepatology.
A hepatologist can then take a certification exam for gastroenterology and transplant hepatology.
A hepatologist can subspecialize in transplant hepatology. This training allows the hepatologist to treat people who require liver transplants.
A person who has advanced alcohol-related liver disease may require a liver transplant as a last resort.
Both hepatologists and gastroenterologists have years of training and experience. To become a gastroenterologist, a doctor must complete a residency that lasts around 3 years. They must then complete a fellowship that lasts 2–4 years.
A qualified hepatologist must have completed a 2- to 4-year residency, followed by a 1- to 4-year fellowship.
This section answers some common questions about fatty liver disease specialists.
How does a gastroenterologist treat fatty liver disease?
Gastroenterologists can diagnose and stage a person’s fatty liver disease. This can help the gastroenterologist choose the right kind of treatment for the person.
Treatments will depend on what kind of fatty liver disease a person has. Fatty liver disease specialists
If a person’s fatty liver disease progresses, they may require medication or a liver transplant.
Can fatty liver be cured completely?
Yes, a person can reverse the damage from fatty liver disease with treatment. However, a person should continue to eat healthily and avoid alcohol to prevent the fatty liver disease from returning.
The cost of treatment for fatty liver disease may depend on the type a person has. It can also depend on what stage of diagnosis a person is at.
There is currently no information regarding the cost of AFLD treatment. A person should discuss any potential costs with their specialist when making an appointment.
Fatty liver disease is a condition resulting from a buildup of fat inside the liver. Fatty liver disease specialists, such as hepatologists or gastroenterologists, can treat it.
The treatment a person receives for fatty liver disease can depend on what type they have. It can also depend on how advanced their disease is.
With treatment, a person can reverse the damage from early-stage fatty liver disease. Following treatment, a person should ensure they continue to eat healthily and avoid alcohol.
There are many factors that can influence what fatty liver disease specialist a person chooses. It is important for a person to choose a licensed doctor they are comfortable with.