iCliniq logo

Ask a Doctor Online Now

HomeHealth articlesfatty liverFatty Liver - Types, Symptoms, Stages, and Treatment

Fatty Liver - Types, Symptoms, Stages, and Treatment

Verified dataVerified data
Fatty Liver - Types, Symptoms, Stages, and Treatment

5 min read


The liver is the largest gland in the body. When excess fat starts accumulating in the liver, it is said to be fatty. To know more, read the article below.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Gokul Kruba Shankar

Published At June 9, 2018
Reviewed AtFebruary 21, 2024

What Does Fatty Liver Mean?

The liver is the largest gland in the body. Its primary function is to process the food and drinks we consume and filter out the harmful substances. A certain amount of fat is normal if present in the liver. However, due to various factors, excess fat can start accumulating in the liver. If more than 5 percent of the liver is fat, it is said to be fatty. Initially, there will not be any symptoms. But, it does not affect the efficiency of the liver functions. The body has some mechanisms in place to allow the liver cells to regenerate. But, repeated damage can cause permanent scarring in the form of cirrhosis.

The cause is not known in most cases, but in some, alcoholism plays an important role (alcoholic fatty liver). If the cause is not alcohol, then it is called a non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL). NAFL falls under the group of non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD), which is the most common type of liver disease. The initial stage of liver disease is the non-alcoholic fatty acid, which can be reversed but usually goes undiagnosed. If left untreated, it can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is a more serious liver condition.

The fat accumulated in the liver is more in NASH, and it can lead to inflammation of the liver and cell damage. This damage can cause liver cirrhosis or fibrosis. Continuous damage to the liver cells can impair liver function, and the scarring increases the risk of liver cancer. It also increases the risk of heart and kidney disease, diabetes, etc.


  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease - It is the damage caused to the liver cells due to excess alcohol consumption.

  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) - It is caused by the other factors mentioned above in a person who does not consume too much alcohol.

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Fatty Liver?

Initially, the patient feels no symptoms. However, there is a slight enlargement of the liver detected during a physical examination. Later, once there is excessive inflammation, vague symptoms may develop, such as:

  • Decreased appetite.

  • Drastic weight loss.

  • Fatigue.

  • Abdominal discomfort.

  • Pain in the upper right abdomen.

Further, it can progress to cirrhosis and give rise to the following symptoms:

  • Jaundice.

  • Ascites (abdominal swelling).

  • Edema.

  • Confusion.

  • Increased bleeding tendency.

The levels of liver enzymes (AST - Aspartate Aminotransferase and ALT - Alanine transaminase), insulin, and triglycerides are elevated.

Grades of Fatty Liver:

Based on the visual changes observed on the ultrasound, the fatty liver is graded into three:

  1. Grade I - This is the mildest form. Here, the fat accumulates on the outside of the organ and does not affect its function.

  2. Grade II - It is a moderately severe form and requires medical intervention to prevent worsening.

  3. Grade III - It is a severe form of fatty liver, with the appearance of symptoms. Active treatments are required.

What Are the Causes and Risk Factors of Fatty Liver?

Alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs mainly in people who drink heavily, especially over a long time. Women who drink heavily, those who are obese, or people with certain genetic changes have a higher risk. Some common causes and risk factors include the following.

  • Alcoholism.

  • Overeating as a habit.

  • Medical conditions:

    1. Diabetes.

    2. Obesity.

    3. High triglycerides.

    4. High blood pressure (hypertension).

    5. PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome).

    6. Sleep apnea.

    7. Hypothyroidism.

    8. Hypopituitarism.

  • Certain medications (Aspirin, steroids, Methotrexate, and more).

  • Liver infections like hepatitis C.

Risk Factors:

  • People with excess belly fat (individuals with too much fat around the belly are also called viscerally obese). Having elevated levels of fats in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

  • Consuming a diet rich in carbohydrates.

  • More intake of sweetened beverages and soft drinks.

  • Imbalance in gut bacteria.

  • Having type 2 diabetes or prediabetes. High levels of insulin and its resistance increase the risk of fat deposition in the liver.

  • Being middle-aged or older (although it can also occur in children)

  • Having elevated levels of fats in the blood, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

  • Having hypertension (high blood pressure)

  • Undergoing rapid weight loss.

  • Being exposed to certain toxins.

Fatty liver

Stages of Fatty Liver:

Fatty liver develops in the following stages:

  1. Steatosis - It is a relatively harmless accumulation of fat in the liver. It is accidentally diagnosed while trying to diagnose other conditions.

  2. Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) - Here, the liver is inflamed.

  3. Fibrosis - Chronic inflammation of the liver results in scar tissue. Scars are around the liver and surrounding blood vessels, but the liver function is normal.

  4. Cirrhosis - It occurs gradually over the years and is the most severe stage. Here, the liver shrinks and looks scarred. This damage cannot be reversed.

Drastic lifestyle changes can prevent the development of cirrhosis or fibrosis.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Fatty Liver?

In the early stages, as mentioned above, there are no symptoms. So, it is often diagnosed during routine blood tests. The doctor can palpate the abdomen area to feel for changes, and he/she may suggest tests such as the following to confirm his findings:

1. Blood Tests - It includes -

  • Liver function test and liver enzymes.

  • Complete blood count.

  • Test for hepatitis.

  • Blood sugar levels.

  • Hemoglobin level.

  • Lipid profile.

2. Imaging Tests - It includes -

  • Abdominal ultrasound.

  • CT or MRI.

  • Magnetic resonance elastography.

  • Transient elastography.

3. Liver Biopsy - Here, a needle is inserted, and a sample of tissue is taken out for testing. This is the most certain method to detect fatty liver.

Can Fatty Liver Be Treated?

Yes, if the liver has not altered or been scarred, fatty liver can be treated. The treatment options include:

1) Alcohol Abstinence - It is absolutely essential to stop drinking to prevent the progression of this disease.

2) Dietary Modifications:

  • Avoid overeating.

  • Cut back on refined carbohydrates (One can try the Mediterranean diet).

  • Include mono-saturated fats, whey protein, and soluble fiber.

3) Weight Loss - If individuals are overweight or obese, lose weight with dietary modifications and exercise.

4) Diabetic Control - Diabetic patients should control their blood glucose levels with the help of dietary restrictions, anti-diabetic drugs or insulin, and exercise.

5) Triglyceride Control - People with high cholesterol or triglycerides should exercise and watch what they eat.

What Are the Possible Complications of Fatty Liver?

Cirrhosis, which is late-stage scarring of the liver, is the most concerning complication of fatty liver. Cirrhosis, in turn, can result in:

  1. Ascites (the buildup of fluid in the abdomen).

  2. Hepatic Encephalopathy - It is when a severe liver disease affects brain function. The symptoms include confusion and slurred speech.

  3. Esophageal Varices - The veins in the esophagus swell. This vein can rupture and bleed at any time.

  4. Liver cancer.

  5. End-stage liver failure.

What Lifestyle Changes Can Assist in Managing Fatty Liver Disease?

Some simple lifestyle changes that can help with fatty liver disease include:

  • Eat a healthy diet by avoiding too much salt and sugar, and instead, eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains.

  • Make sure to get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, the flu, and pneumococcal disease. Having these conditions along with fatty liver can increase the risk of liver failure.

  • Individuals with long-term liver disease are more susceptible to infections, so these vaccinations are inevitable.

  • Engage in regular exercise, as it can assist in weight loss and reducing fat in the liver.

  • Before taking any dietary supplements, or vitamins, or trying alternative medicines or practices, discuss them with the doctor. Some herbal remedies might harm the liver.


Depending on the seriousness of one's condition, they can potentially clear fatty liver and even some scarring. The liver is really good at fixing itself. If individuals stick to their doctor's treatment plan, they can lower liver fat and swelling. This helps stop the damage from getting worse and might even reverse some early liver damage.

Frequently Asked Questions


How Serious Is a Fatty Liver?

The fatty liver condition is dangerous because it can cause inflammation and severe damage to the liver. Once the damage has occurred, the changes become irreversible. Severe scarring of the liver is known as cirrhosis. The severity of cirrhosis can increase the risk of liver cancer.


How Can I Reduce My Fatty Liver?

- The main cause of fatty liver is obesity. Check your BMI and maintain it at the healthy levels.
- Reduce your cholesterol level.
- Do exercise regularly. It can help you overcome a sedentary lifestyle.
- Control your diabetes.
- Choose a balanced and healthy diet. Avoid junk foods.


What Can I Drink to Flush My Liver?

Citric fruits like oranges, limes, grapes, oranges, and lemons help in boosting the function of the liver. It also increases the cleansing ability. Consuming citrus fruits as such also has health benefits like detoxification of enzymes that can flush out the pollutants.


How much time does it take to reverse fatty liver?

All the cases of fatty liver cannot be reversed. If fatty liver is caused by alcohol, then you should definitely stop drinking. Other worst habits, such as substance abuse, should also be stopped. Within a few weeks’ time, the fat that is around the liver might vanish. The important thing is staying away from alcohol as it might cause recurrence.


Can Stress Cause Fatty Liver Directly?

Stress does not cause fatty liver directly. But it is known to be a risk factor because of its indirect effects. Stress is a contributor to unhealthy and poor behaviors like alcohol abuse, smoking, and poor diet patterns. In some cases, stress is known to be associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.


How Do You Detoxify Your Liver?

Detoxification of the liver involves the following:
- Avoiding certain foods that are rich in alcohol.
- Choose a liver-friendly diet.
- Use supplements to flush toxins out of the liver.
- Clean the colon and gut through the use of enemas.
- Juice fasting.


How Do I Detox My Liver Naturally?

The ideal ways for detoxing the liver are:
- Drink huge quantities of water.
- Focus on getting sound sleep.
- Limit the usage of alcohol. If that is the reason for fatty liver, you should completely stop the habit.
- Reduce your intake of processed foods and sugar.
- Eat foods high in prebiotics.
- Eat antioxidant-rich foods.
- Get active.
- Decrease your salt intake.


Is Fasting Good for the Liver?

There is a common belief that fasting will help you to treat liver disease. Like most of the detoxifying methods, a liver cleanse has specific steps. You may have to fast or only to drink juices or other liquids for several days. You might need to take herbal or restricted diet or dietary supplements.


Is a Fatty Liver Painful?

In most of the cases, the fatty liver does not have any symptoms. A certain degree of pain and discomfort is seen on the abdomen. In severe cases, cirrhosis can occur and lead to scarring. Diagnosing at an early stage and terminating the cause can help you feel better. This is the only way to avoid pain in fatty liver condition.


Does Apple Cider Vinegar Clean Your Liver?

Apple cider vinegar helps in promoting circulation. It also detoxifies the liver. The acid in this apple cider vinegar can also bind to toxins. This can aid in the removal of toxins from the body. It is also rich in potassium content. This quality makes it capable of breaking the mucus in the body. They also contribute to clearing the toxins in the lymph nodes.


Is Turmeric Bad for Your Liver?

The turmeric antioxidant effect appears to be very powerful that prevents your liver from being damaged by toxins. It could be useful for people who take strong medications for diabetes or other health conditions, which might hurt their liver with long-term use.
Source Article IclonSourcesSource Article Arrow
Dr. Vasantha. K. S
Dr. Vasantha. K. S



fatty liver
Community Banner Mobile
By subscribing, I agree to iCliniq's Terms & Privacy Policy.

Source Article ArrowMost popular articles

Ask your health query to a doctor online

Medical Gastroenterology

*guaranteed answer within 4 hours

Disclaimer: No content published on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical diagnosis, advice or treatment by a trained physician. Seek advice from your physician or other qualified healthcare providers with questions you may have regarding your symptoms and medical condition for a complete medical diagnosis. Do not delay or disregard seeking professional medical advice because of something you have read on this website. Read our Editorial Process to know how we create content for health articles and queries.

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. iCliniq privacy policy