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Fatty liver disease (steatosis) explained

Fatty liver disease is a condition whereby too much fat is stored in the cells of your liver. The buildup of fat can slowly decrease the function of the liver, meaning it cannot perform its usual roles within the body. 

This buildup can be caused by a range of liver conditions. If you consume minimal alcohol, it is referred to as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is thought to be a consequence of insulin resistance. Alcohol-associated liver disease can be similar to NAFLD. However, it only applies to those who consume alcohol excessively. 

NAFLD often presents with very few or no symptoms — you may only feel tired or experience abdominal discomfort. Research indicates that genes, diet, digestive system, or certain diseases and health conditions may contribute.

What symptoms of fatty liver disease can affect your face?

The liver filters toxins from your blood. Negative effects usually start taking place when the fat infiltration of your liver reaches 5–10% of the weight of your liver — that is NAFLD. 

However, fatty liver disease is generally a symptomless disease unless there is a progression to liver failure. In some cases, acanthosis nigricans (dry and dark patches of skin that develop in the armpits or groin) or hirsutism (the development of thick, dark hair) can develop. However, this is often a symptom of an underlying disease, like metabolic syndrome. 

How to confirm you have fatty liver disease

If you have noticed symptoms that are common to fatty liver disease, it is a good idea to speak to a medical professional to confirm these suspicions. Many of the symptoms of fatty liver disease can be caused by other conditions, so their presence is not necessarily confirmation that fatty liver disease will be your diagnosis. The medical professional will likely perform blood tests or a physical exam to aid their diagnosis.

What are other symptoms to look for?

Other possible symptoms of fatty liver disease include:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fatigue

Underlying causes of fatty liver disease

Multiple factors can contribute to the buildup of fat in your liver, including:

  • Consuming too many calories

  • Obesity

  • The use of medications 

  • High triglycerides

  • Alcohol abuse 

  • Malnutrition

In some cases, fatty liver disease can develop despite none of these factors being present. Various other factors can also affect the likelihood of developing the disease, including gender. 

A 2021 study found that women had a lower risk of developing NAFLD than men, in the general population. However, once NAFLD is established, women have a higher risk of developing advanced fibrosis compared to men.¹

How can you reduce symptoms of fatty liver face?

The most effective way to reduce symptoms and treat a fatty liver is to make a plan with your medical professional. There is no medication currently used to treat fatty liver disease. Instead, you may be required to make lifestyle changes, such as:

  • Minimizing alcohol consumption

  • Losing weight

  • Taking medication to manage diabetes

Tips to improve liver health

  • Minimize alcohol consumption

  • Wash pesticides or unwanted toxins off produce

  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B

  • Practice safe sex to avoid hepatitis

  • Exercise and eat healthy 

The lowdown

Fatty liver disease can have detrimental effects all over your body, some of these on the face. By eating healthy, exercising, minimizing alcohol consumption, and protecting yourself against hepatitis A, B, and C, you can mitigate the risks of contracting it. 

Seek advice from a medical professional, as you may be able to reverse the effects of this disease and return to a normal healthy complexion and appearance. 

People also ask

Why is fatty liver disease bad?

Fat buildup in the liver can cause damage or scarring that is beyond repair, meaning your liver is impaired for life. It can also cause severe liver damage, including cirrhosis if left untreated. 

What are the forms of fatty liver disease?

There are two forms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: 

  • Simple fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a buildup of fat in the liver without progression to inflammation and liver damage. It doesn't usually cause complications or scarring.

  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a buildup of fat as well as inflammation and cell damage. It often causes scarring of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Will fatty liver disease kill you?

Cases of fatty liver disease can be mild and treatable. However, in some instances, it can continue to progress into more severe stages and eventually cause death. If changes are not made to treat the condition, it can cause liver scarring, liver failure, or liver cancer. It also puts you more at risk for cardiovascular disease. All of these factors make it a risky disease to leave untreated.

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