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Fatty Liver Disease

Symptoms | Diagnosis | Treatment | For More Information

Fatty liver disease develops when the liver becomes inflamed due to the presence of metabolic stress, often in the setting of metabolic syndrome, which includes:

  • diabetes
  • hypertension
  • sleep apnea
  • high blood cholesterol and triglycerides
  • being overweight

Genetic factors also play a role, as fatty liver disease often runs in families and specific ethnic groups, such as Hispanics. While thought to be reversible early on, fatty liver disease can become chronic and progress to cirrhosis in some individuals. This condition may occur in patients who drink little or no alcohol, hence the term nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms

As obesity rates continue to rise in the United States, so does the incidence of fatty liver disease. In the early stages of the disease, patients are unaware of their problem as the symptoms of NASH are subtle. The only signs of fatty liver disease may be a vague discomfort in the right upper quadrant area of your torso, corresponding to the location of the liver. Typically the disease is discovered when the patient’s physician reviews routine liver tests or orders a liver ultrasound.

Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosis

Your hepatologist may employ several diagnostic tools to determine if you are suffering from fatty liver disease. These include blood tests that measure liver function and imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scanning or magnetic resonance imaging. Your physician may also have you undergo a noninvasive FibroScan®, a Magnetic Resonance Elastography test, or a liver biopsy to assess the extent of liver scarring and to help develop a personalized treatment plan.

Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease

First-line treatment for fatty liver disease involves behavior modification and lifestyle changes. We have seen dramatic improvement in fatty liver disease and resolution of NASH in many patients who were able to improve their weight. Therefore, at NorthShore we refer patients to the Weight Loss Management Clinic, this clinic features a high-protein, low carbohydrate diet program combined with intensive counseling and treatment sessions. Or encourage you to take advantage of our outpatient nutritional therapy and wellness services staffed by registered dieticians experienced in assisting patients with meal planning.

Surgical treatments are also available in select cases and include gastric LAP band or gastric bypass procedures.

Additionally, NorthShore is involved in several phase 3 clinical trials researching new medications for NASH that are expected to become available soon.

For More Information

For more information on fatty liver disease symptoms and treatment, or to schedule an appointment with one of our hepatologists, please call 847.657.1900.