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What Is Fatty Liver?

Up to 46% of Americans suffer from "fatty liver," a condition of the liver that can place you at risk for cirrhosis. What is it, who gets it, how can you tell if you have it, and what can you do to treat it?

By
Sanaz Majd, MD
4-minute read
Episode #190

Here’s a great topic suggestion from a listener who inspired me to write today’s episode.

“My wife was recently diagnosed with "Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease" in a mild form.

I love listening to the way explain things and I would like to understand more about this. 

Can you please cover this in one of your shows?”fatty liver

- Ravi

Such a common issue, l can’t believe I haven’t thought of it these past few years while podcasting for Quick and Dirty Tips. Thank you for the suggestion (and for the compliment), Ravi!

Has your doctor told you that you have something called “fatty liver”? If so, you’re not alone. In fact, studies estimate that up to 46% of the U.S. population may have fatty liver, and this continues to rise sadly as our obesity epidemic worsens in this country. It is by far the most common cause of liver issues in both men and women..

What Is Fatty Liver?

The more accurate diagnosis is termed, “Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease” (NAFLD), but for our purposes let’s refer to it as “fatty liver” for short.

The words “fat” and “liver” seem pretty odd in the same sentence. It can sound intimidating to hear your doctor tell you that your liver is full of fat—is that indeed what they are saying? Does it mean you are overweight? Not necessarily.

Liver biopsies taken from patients diagnosed with fatty liver often reveal fat droplets within the cells when viewed under the microscope; hence, the term “fatty liver.” It is not a reflection of how overweight a person is. Although patients who are overweight have a higher risk of fatty liver, not all patients with fatty liver are overweight; and not all overweight patients have fatty liver.

Patients who are most at risk for fatty liver are those with the following medical conditions (almost all of which I've previously discussed in prior episodes that you may find useful to check out):

Patients with fatty liver often don’t even know it, as it is typically is silent and asymptomatic. 

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Please note that all content here is strictly for informational purposes only. This content does not substitute any medical advice, and does not replace any medical judgment or reasoning by your own personal health provider. Please always seek a licensed physician in your area regarding all health related questions and issues.

About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd is a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. Her special interests are women's health and patient education.