Fatty Liver (Steatohepatitis)

At Henry Ford, our experts offer comprehensive, multidisciplinary care for fatty liver disease, also called steatohepatitis. Our board-certified specialists use their extensive experience to develop personalized treatment plans for you and your health needs.

What is fatty liver (steatohepatitis)?

Some fat in your liver is normal. However, more extensive levels of fat may cause nonalcoholic fatty liver disease with scarring of the liver and the potential for liver failure. Fatty liver can be reversible and usually doesn’t cause any permanent damage.

There are three types of fatty liver:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease: This develops when excessive alcohol consumption causes the liver cells to become swollen with fat and water, damaging the liver so that it can no longer break down fats. It’s the first step toward alcohol-related liver disease, like cirrhosis.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFL): Unrelated to alcohol use, NAFL happens when fats buildup in the liver and cause liver inflammation. This condition doesn’t always lead to liver damage.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): NASH is when too much fat builds up in the liver, leading to inflammation and potential liver damage. This is not caused by alcohol consumption. Without treatment, NASH can lead to permanent scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and potential liver failure.

Causes of fatty liver disease

Experts aren’t sure why some people get nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and others don't. It could be genetics or even environmental exposures. Usually people are diagnosed between the ages of 40 and 50.

Known causes for all fatty liver diseases include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Diet
  • Metabolic syndromes, including obesity, Type 2 diabetes, and high triglyceride (fat) levels in the blood
  • Use of steroids, tamoxifen, and/or tetracycline
  • Toxins
  • Diabetes

Symptoms of fatty liver disease

Generally, fatty liver does not show any symptoms at first. But as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) progresses, your symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain on the right side

How is fatty liver diagnosed?

At Henry Ford, our experienced hepatologists (specially trained liver specialists) use the latest diagnostic tools to identify fatty liver including:

  • Abdominal ultrasound: Uses sound waves to produce a picture of your liver
  • CT (computed tomography) scan: Uses X rays to make detailed images of the liver
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan: Uses magnetic fields and radiowaves to take detailed pictures of the liver
  • Liver biopsy: Taking a tissue sample from your liver

Learn more about liver disease diagnosis at Henry Ford.

Fatty liver prevention and treatments at Henry Ford

We’ve brought together a team of physicians from a wide range of specialties, trained in the comprehensive management of fatty liver disease. They have both the knowledge and expertise to offer personalized treatments and lifestyle counseling to improve your condition. Some lifestyle changes/treatments that may help include:

  • Abstaining from alcohol
  • Weight loss
  • Good diabetic control
  • Lifestyle changes, including diet and exercise
  • Bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery)
  • Research and clinical trials involving promising, new medications

Liver transplant program at Henry Ford

If your fatty liver has caused extensive liver damage, you may need a liver transplant. At Henry Ford, we are one of the largest, most active liver transplant centers in the Midwest.

We are the only hospital in Michigan routinely performing living-donor transplants. We also offer the best one- and three-year survival rates in Michigan for liver transplants.

Learn more about the Liver Transplant Program at Henry Ford.

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