Fatty liver disease is a term that describes excess fat buildup in the liver. While there is no treatment for fatty liver disease, certain lifestyle changes may help reverse the condition in its early stages.
It is typical to have a small amount of fat in the liver. However, a doctor may diagnose a person with fatty liver disease if the amount of liver fat exceeds 5–10% of the organ’s total weight.
The two types of fatty liver disease are nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease. Healthcare professionals may call the latter alcoholic steatohepatitis. While NAFLD does not occur due to alcohol use, alcoholic fatty liver disease develops as a result of heavy alcohol use.
According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), an estimated
This article explores whether someone may be able to reverse fatty liver disease. It also discusses NAFLD treatment, NAFLD prevention, and when to speak with a doctor.
Additionally, the NHS notes that early detection and management may help reduce the amount of liver fat and stop NAFLD from progressing to end stage liver damage.
The following are the main stages of NAFLD:
- Simple fatty liver or steatosis: This is a mostly harmless buildup of fat on the liver that usually does not involve symptoms. A doctor may detect this type of liver disease during diagnostic tests for other medical conditions.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): This is an advanced form of fatty liver disease where a person experiences inflammation of the liver. Without preventive treatment, NASH
can leadto more serious complications.
- Liver fibrosis: This refers to repetitive inflammation of the liver cells, which causes scar tissue on the liver and surrounding vascular structures, or blood vessels. At this stage, the liver is still able to function as usual.
- Liver cirrhosis: After years of inflammation, a person’s liver may become permanently damaged. In turn, this damage may progress to liver failure and cancer.
A 2018 studyindicates that lifestyle and diet modifications that lead to a
Similar to NAFLD, steatosis is the first stage of alcoholic liver disease. At this stage, a person may be able to reverse liver damage by stopping alcohol consumption. By limiting their alcohol intake, people may also help prevent cirrhosis.
According to the American Liver Foundation (ALF), there are no medical treatments for NAFLD. However, a doctor will assess the severity of a person’s symptoms and the stage of NAFLD to recommend management strategies that may prevent the condition from progressing.
- gradually losing weight, if a person has overweight or obesity
- avoiding alcohol
- exercising regularly
- limiting foods and drinks with a high sugar content
- consuming more foods that have a minimal effect on blood glucose levels — these include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- limiting the intake of fats and replacing saturated and trans fats with unsaturated fats
A liver transplant may serve as the last line of treatment if fatty liver disease severely affects liver function. A doctor will perform this surgery by removing a person’s liver and replacing it with a healthy liver from a donor.
Healthcare professionals may recommend some tips to prevent NAFLD, such as:
The ALF notes that a person should speak with a doctor if they notice any of the following symptoms:
- edema, which is swelling due to fluid buildup in bodily tissues, and ascites, which is a buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- loss of appetite
- unexplained weight loss
- telangiectasia, which are small blood vessels that sit near the skin’s surface and widen and create visible patterns of lines
According to the NIDDK, people with certain health conditions have a
- type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
- atypical levels of fat in the blood, including cholesterol and triglycerides
- metabolic syndrome
Anyone with these conditions may wish to speak with a healthcare professional for advice about preventing NAFLD.
Fatty liver disease describes two conditions that cause excess fat buildup in the liver: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and alcoholic liver disease.
There are no medical treatments for fatty liver disease. However, lifestyle modifications that a doctor suggests, such as eating healthily and exercising regularly, may help reverse it in its early stages or prevent its progression.
If liver damage severely affects a person’s liver function, the healthcare professional may recommend a liver transplant as the last line of treatment.
A person needs to speak with a doctor immediately if they think they may have fatty liver disease or any conditions that make them more susceptible to developing it.