1304 Somerville Rd.
Decatur, AL 35601
© 2011. Riverside Gastroenterology
1304 Somerville Rd., Decatur, AL 35601
Fatty liver is just what its name suggests: the build-up of fat in the liver cells. Although this is not a normal condition, fat in the liver usually causes no damage by itself. However, on some occasions it can be a sign that other more harmful conditions are at work. Fatty liver may be associated with or may lead to inflammation of the liver. This can cause scarring and hardening of the liver. When scarring becomes extensive, it is called cirrhosis, and this is a very serious condition. Therefore, it is important that a physician thoroughly examine a patient with fat in the liver. Fatty liver is the most common type of liver disease in our country.
It would seem logical that eating fatty foods would cause a fatty liver, but this is not the case. The liver does play an important role in the metabolism or breakdown of fats. Something goes wrong in this process of metabolism, but it is still not known what does cause fat to build-up in the liver. It is known that fat accumulates in the liver with a number of conditions. The most common is obesity. Fatty liver is also associated with diabetes mellitus, high blood triglycerides, and the heavy use of alcohol. It may occur with certain illnesses such as tuberculosis and malnutrition, intestinal bypass surgery for obesity, excess vitamin A in the body, or the use of certain drugs such as valproic acid (trade names: Depakene/Depakote) and corticosteroids (cortisone, prednisone). Sometimes fatty liver occurs as a complication of pregnancy.
There are usually no symptoms that are noticeable to the patient. In fact, fatty liver is frequently uncovered during a routine physical examination. There may be a rise in certain liver enzymes found in the blood, and sometimes the liver is slightly enlarged. Fatty liver may also be discovered while the physician is evaluating a patient for other illnesses. For example, an ultrasound exam of the abdomen done for other reasons may show fat in the liver. To be certain of a diagnosis of fatty liver, the physician may recommend a liver biopsy. Under local anesthesia, a slender needle is inserted through the right lower chest. A small piece of liver tissue is taken out with the needle and examined under a microscope.