What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
Last updated: March 2021
The liver is one of the most important organs in the body. It is roughly the size of a football and weighs about 3 pounds. The liver acts as a filter for your body, breaking down the food, drugs, alcohol, and caffeine in your blood. It then captures and stores the vitamins and minerals it finds to be released later. It also turns these building blocks into chemicals that your body needs, such as proteins, hormones, and blood clotting materials.
How does hepatitis C affect the liver?
Certain health issues make it harder for the liver to work properly, including viruses like hepatitis C virus (HCV). In fact, approximately 70 percent of people with HCV also have what is called fatty liver disease.1
Fatty liver disease means that the cells inside your liver have more fat than is healthy. This extra fat makes it harder for your liver to do its job of cleaning your blood and storing nutrients.
Types of fatty liver disease
The medical term for fatty liver disease is hepatic steatosis. Hepatic means liver and steato means fat.
There are two types of fatty liver disease:
- Alcoholic, which is caused by heavy drinking, usually over a long time
- Non-alcoholic, which is caused by disease, such as hepatitis, diabetes, high cholesterol, malnutrition or fast weight loss
In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there are also two types: simple and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is the more serious condition because it means that there is inflammation and liver cell damage. NASH can lead to scarring of the liver (called fibrosis or cirrhosis depending on how bad the scarring is) and liver cancer.1,2
Fatty liver disease & hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver disease in the Western world.3
Doctors do not fully understand why people with HCV also often have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Studies have shown that people with HCV are more likely to have insulin resistance (diabetes) too. They also know that being overweight or obese leads to fatty liver disease.1
Doctors also know that people with HCV tend to have more severe fatty liver disease, which makes liver cancer or liver failure more likely. A weaker liver also makes it more difficult to control the hepatitis C virus.
Common signs of fatty liver disease
Most people with fatty liver disease see no signs that there is a problem. However, when the disease has gotten worse or gone on for a long time, common symptoms may include:1,2
- Jaundice (yellow eyes or skin)
- Tiredness or weakness
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Abdominal swelling
- Red palms
- Enlarged breasts in men
- Enlarged blood vessels just under the skin
Tips to manage fatty liver disease
The liver is one of the only organs that can repair itself. If scarring has not yet taken place, it is possible to improve your liver function by changing your lifestyle.
Since being overweight and eating a high-fat diet is hard on your liver, many of the tips to manage fatty liver disease require eating better and losing weight.
Your doctor might recommend some of these ways to cope with fatty liver disease:
- Stop or greatly reducing the amount of alcohol you consume
- Losing weight
- Exercising more
- Controlling your blood sugar if you have diabetes
- Lowering your blood cholesterol levels
- Avoiding use of recreational drugs
- Getting vaccinated against hepatitis A and B
Also, make sure your doctor knows about all of the herbs, supplements, or over-the-counter drugs you take. Certain medicines, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), may be hard on your liver.1,2