Grade 3 fatty liver disease is the most severe form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It is associated with a large accumulation of fat in the liver.

NAFLD occurs when excessive fat builds up in the liver. It may not cause any symptoms.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) are two types of NAFLD. NASH involves fat accumulation in the liver along with inflammation and scarring of the liver cells.

Experts provide grades of NAFLD based on a scoring system that includes factors such as the amount of fat in the liver, inflammation, and ballooning. Grade 3, or severe, NAFLD means a person has a larger percentage of fat in their liver.

Read on to learn more about grade 3 fatty liver disease. This article discusses symptoms, causes, treatment options, and more.

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Grade 3 fatty liver disease means a person has a large percentage of fat deposited in their liver. Grade 3 NAFLD occurs when a person’s liver contains a percentage of fat greater than 66% and severe inflammation.

The excessive fat associated with grade 3 increases a person’s risk of disease progression. In severe cases, a person may need a liver transplant.

At any grade, a person can follow lifestyle strategies to help reverse fat accumulation and inflammation in the liver cells. Lifestyle strategies typically involve both dietary changes and exercise.

Learn more about NAFLD.

NAFLD does not typically cause symptoms. Some experts refer to it as a silent disease because of this. Even people who develop cirrhosis may not develop any symptoms for some time.

When they occur, symptoms can include pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen and fatigue.

A person with cirrhosis due to NASH, end stage liver disease, or liver cancer may experience:

  • weight loss
  • edema (fluid buildup that causes swelling in the legs)
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • loss of appetite
  • jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • mental confusion
  • itching
  • spider-like blood vessels

Researchers continue to look into the exact underlying cause of NAFLD. Several factors can increase a person’s risk of developing the condition, including:

  • high cholesterol or high triglycerides in the blood
  • living with type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
  • having overweight or obesity

People living with metabolic syndrome or at least one of its associated traits have a higher risk of NAFLD than those who do not. Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions and traits linked to overweight and obesity. Traits include:

  • high levels of triglycerides
  • larger waist size
  • low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • higher than usual blood glucose levels
  • type 2 diabetes
  • high blood pressure

A person who has at least one of these traits has a higher chance of developing NASH.

Learn more about metabolic syndrome.

Genetics and diet may also play a role. Certain genes may increase a person’s chances of developing NAFLD. Certain diets, such as consuming large amounts of sugar, may also increase a person’s risk, though more research is necessary.

Treatments for grade 3 fatty liver disease typically involve lifestyle strategies. Currently, there are no medications approved for the treatment of NAFLD.

Instead, a doctor will likely recommend a person to:

  • get enough regular exercise or physical activity
  • manage underlying health conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol
  • consume more vegetables and fruits and avoid foods and drinks that contain large amounts of simple sugars
  • avoid drinking alcohol
  • maintain a moderate weight

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, losing about 3–5% of body weight can help reduce fat around the liver, while losing about 7–10% of body weight can help reduce liver inflammation and scarring.

A person’s doctor can advise on whether they recommend weight loss and, if so, how to achieve this as safely as possible.

Learn more about what to eat for a fatty liver.

A doctor may recommend additional treatments due to complications associated with inflammation and scarring. These treatments may include:

  • medications
  • minor procedures and surgery
  • liver transplant

It is best to contact a doctor as soon as a person has concerns about complications of NAFLD. The doctor can advise on the most suitable treatments for individual complications.

Learn more about treating NAFLD.

To diagnose grade 3 fatty liver disease, a doctor typically performs a physical examination, reviews medical history, and orders various tests.

A physical examination often includes checking for signs of liver issues and taking the person’s body weight and height. A doctor can use weight and height to calculate a person’s body mass index (BMI). A higher BMI increases a person’s risk of having NAFLD.

A doctor may also check for the following:

  • signs of cirrhosis, including:
    • fluid buildup in the abdomen
    • muscle loss
    • enlarged spleen
  • dark skin patches, which can indicate insulin resistance
  • signs of an enlarged liver

During the appointment, a doctor will also likely ask questions about a person’s personal and family medical history. They may ask about a person’s history with:

  • insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
  • overweight or obesity
  • metabolic syndrome
  • high triglyceride or high cholesterol levels

The doctor may also review the person’s lifestyle and habits, including how much they exercise and what they eat.

Reviewing this medical information can help a doctor determine whether a person has a higher risk of developing NAFLD.

If a doctor suspects a person may have NAFLD based on a physical examination and review of medical history, they will likely order one or more tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests include:

  • Blood tests: Blood tests can help check for liver enzymes and other factors that could indicate liver scarring or damage.
  • Imaging tests: Imaging tests can include an ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan. These can show fat buildup in the liver but cannot show inflammation.
  • Biopsy: A person may need a liver biopsy to confirm a diagnosis of NASH.

Grade 3 fatty liver disease puts a person at higher risk of developing complications, including inflammation and scarring, if they are not already present.

NAFLD can also lead to other complications, such as:

A person’s doctor can advise on reducing their risk of complications.

Here are some frequently asked questions about grade 3 fatty liver disease.

Can fatty liver grade 3 be cured?

Losing a small percentage of weight can help reduce the percentage of fat in the liver and help the liver heal from damage associated with inflammation.

However, the damage is typically irreversible in the later stages. At that point, treatment focuses on managing symptoms and preventing further damage.

What is the life expectancy of a stage 3 fatty liver?

A person with stage 3 NAFLD often has a reduced life expectancy due to the risk of potentially fatal complications. These include:

  • cardiovascular disease
  • liver cancer
  • liver failure

A person’s doctor can provide information about their own outlook based on their individual circumstances.

How do you manage fatty liver grade 3?

In most cases, a person can manage NAFLD with lifestyle strategies. These can include getting enough regular physical activity and maintaining a moderate weight.

A person can also take steps to manage high cholesterol levels and type 2 diabetes where applicable.

Grade 3 NAFLD is the most severe level. It indicates a high percentage of fat in the liver and inflammation of surrounding structures. It can occur in both NAFL and NASH.

Conditions that can increase the risk of grade 3 NAFLD include obesity, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome. Without treatment, NAFLD can lead to complications such as cardiovascular disease, liver cancer, or liver failure.

A person may not experience symptoms of NAFLD. If a doctor suspects NAFLD, they may order various tests, such as blood tests, imaging tests, and a liver biopsy.

Treatment typically involves following certain lifestyle strategies and managing other health conditions, such as diabetes or high cholesterol. Lifestyle strategies typically include losing weight or maintaining a moderate weight, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough regular exercise.