Is your liver experiencing irreparable damage?

Is your liver experiencing irreparable damage?

We all know what weight gain looks like on the outside. But not everyone knows the dangers of weight gain that happens inside, specifically in and near vital organs, called subcutaneous fat.

When too much fat builds up around the liver, it is known as fatty liver disease, which is a dangerous but preventable and reversible issue.

“The liver normally contains some fat in a healthy body, but it becomes a ‘fatty liver’ if more than 5-10% of its weight is made up of fat,” says Dr. Brett Leiknes, a family medicine physician at Aurora Health Care. “It’s not exactly clear why or how fat accumulates in the liver, but there are strong and obvious ties to obesity and type 2 diabetes.”

The excess fat in the liver cells can lead to inflammation in the organ, also known as hepatitis. Left unaddressed, it can cause irreparable damage.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease? Dr. Leiknes offers some things to watch for:

  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Appetite loss
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Itchy skin

There are two types of fatty liver disease – alcohol-related and nonalcoholic.


This is an umbrella term for a range of conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol, yet experience symptoms of fatty liver disease. Under that umbrella are two sub-types: nonalcoholic steatohepatitis and simple fatty liver.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis has become a common affliction across the world, affecting as many as a quarter of people across the world. If untreated, it can cause scarring of the liver, cirrhosis, liver cancer and an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

Researchers have found strong links to obesity and type 2 diabetes, or more generally the inability to process insulin, to be large risk factors. It can affect people of all ages, particularly those in the Hispanic population.

Conversely, simple fatty liver is when a patient has excess fat in their liver with none of the inflammation or cell damage. The simple type generally does not progress to cause liver damage or further complications.


While having similar effects, this version of fatty liver is caused by even just a few days of excess or heavy alcohol use. People mostly know the liver’s role in filtering toxins like alcohol, but it also aids in digestion, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol.

As the liver breaks down alcohol, the process can generate harmful substances that can damage liver cells, promote inflammation and weaken the organ and other parts of your body. This process can additionally lead to a build-up of fat in the organ.

“Fatty liver disease, no matter what causes it, is often caught when screening for other issues” says Dr. Leiknes. “That’s why it is so important to be open with your physician about your lifestyle and get regular check-ups.”

Luckily, fatty liver of both types can generally be reversed before they worsen with an improved healthy diet, cutting down on alcohol consumption, weight loss and exercise. Regularly scheduled vaccinations for hepatitis A or B and the flu, all of which cause inflammation, can help prevent fatty liver or prevent the condition from worsening to hepatitis or cirrhosis.

Want to learn more about your risk for diabetes? Take a free online quiz. 

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care and Aurora Health Care sites, which also includes freelance or intern writers.