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Fatty Liver

What is Fatty Liver?

Fatty liver build-up of fat in the liver cells. While this usually causes no damage by itself, fatty liver can be a sign of more harmful conditions:

  • Inflammation of the liver, which can cause scarring and hardening of the liver.
  • Cirrhosis, which is excessive scarring of the liver.  


Fat in the liver can be associated with or caused by:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • High blood triglycerides
  • Heavy use of alcohol
  • Tuberculosis
  • Malnutrition
  • Intestinal bypass surgery for obesity
  • Excess vitamin A in the body
  • Use of certain drugs such as valproic acid (trade names: Depakene/ Depakote) and corticosteroids (cortisone, prednisone).
  • A complication of pregnancy

Symptoms and Diagnosis

There are typically no symptoms. A physician will often uncover fatty liver during a routine exam, or when evaluating a patient for other illnesses. Possible indications of fatty liver include:

  • A rise in certain liver enzymes found in the blood
  • A slightly enlarged liver
  • An ultra sound exam shows fat in the liver

To be certain of a diagnosis of fatty liver, your physician may recommend a liver biopsy.

What is Steatohepatitis?

Steatohepatitis is inflammation of the liver related to fat accumulation. This can lead to serious liver damage and cirrhosis. Steatohepatitis is often associated with:

  • Being significantly overweight
  • Losing weight rapidly
  • Estrogen hormones in some women.
  • Diabetes mellitus that is not properly controlled


Control underlying conditions by:

  • Weight loss (most important)
  • Reducing high blood triglycerides
  • Effectively controlling diabetes
  • Not drinking alcohol


  • In some cases, surgical reversal of intestinal bypass for obesity
  • Liver transplantation is now an accepted form of treatment for chronic, severe liver damage.

Download our booklet for more comprehensive information about this condition.

This content was last medically reviewed in May 2022 by Sharlotte Manley, MSN, FNP, Erlanger Gastroenterology.