The normal liver weighs a mere three pounds. Fatty liver is when fat makes up 5-10 percent of the weight of the organ. When individuals are diagnosed with fatty liver disease it can be one of two types: alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver.

Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD)

Of the estimated 15 million people in the United States who abuse or overuse alcohol, 90-100 percent will develop fatty liver disease (FLD). [1]  ALD can develop even when someone drinks moderately or drinks heavily for a short period of time.

Genetics play a role in the development of ALD. It determines how much alcohol an individual can consume and the likelihood of an individual becoming alcoholic. Other factors that cause the development of ALD include hepatitis C, obesity, diet, and too much iron.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD is the most common chronic liver disease in the United States. Some people can have excess fat in the organ and it does not cause inflammation or damage. Others have liver disease similar to ALD; but, they dink little or no alcohol. This is called non-alcoholic steatohepatisis (NASH). NASH can lead to permanent liver damage.

NASH is a leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver.[1]  Cirrhosis of the liver happens when pieces of the organ harden and over time, the organ's cells are replaced by scar tissue. As many as 20 percent of the adults in the United States have fatty liver or NASH.  More than six million children have one of the diseases; and it is more prevalent in Asian and Hispanic children.[1]

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NAFLD tends to show up more often in middle-aged overweight or obese individuals.  These individuals often have high cholesterol or triglycerides; diabetes or pre-diabetes.  Potential causes include: medications, viral hepatitis, autoimmune or inherited liver disease, rapid weight loss, malnutrition, and overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine.

Fatty Liver Symptoms

FLD is often called the silent disease because many of the symptoms do not appear until the disease is well into advanced stages.  The disease also can take years to develop.  Some of the symptoms of fatty liver disease are:[1]

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss or loss of appetite
  • Weakness
  • Nausea
  • Confusion, impaired judgment or trouble concentrating
  • Enlarged liver
  • Patchy dark skin discoloration usually on the neck or underarm area
  • Pain in the center or upper part of the abdomen
Location of the Liver in the Body; Source: Microsoft OfficeCredit: Source: Microsoft Office

For ALD, symptoms may worsen after periods of heavy drinking.  For NAFLD, the disease can worsen, stop, or even reverse.  Signs of cirrhosis of the liver include fluid retention, muscle wasting, internal bleeding, jaundice and liver failure.

Fatty liver disease is diagnosed usually during a routine check-up and blood test.  Doctors may require x-rays or in some cases a biopsy of the organ to determine the damage.  Currently there is no specific treatment for FLD.   Doctors recommend no drinking of alcohol, and losing weight gradually.  Losing nine percent of the body weight over a period of a couple of months can reverse NASH.  Eating a healthy balanced diet, increasing activity, and avoiding unnecessary medications are also recommended to keep fatty liver disease at bay.


The copyright of the article Fatty Liver Disease not Just Found in Alcoholics is owned by Cheryl Weldon and permission to republish in print or online must be granted by the author in writing.

Fatty Liver