Is Fatty Liver Disease Hereditary?

Fatty liver disease causes a buildup of fat in the cells of the liver. Alcohol abuse is one cause of fat buildup in the liver. When alcohol isn’t the cause, this variant is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). 

Often, this disease is hard to notice. It may only present with no symptoms or just a few. The most common symptoms include: 

  • Abdominal pain

  • Fatigue

  • If the liver is failing and the disease has progressed to cirrhosis:

    • Yellowed skin and eyes (jaundice)

    • Swelling of arms and legs

    • Confusion

    • Weakness

    • Weight loss 

While scientists haven’t pinned down the primary cause of NAFLD, they suspect metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance may contribute to the development. 

Other factors include: 

  • Your genetics

  • Diet

  • Gut biome 

  • Certain diseases and health conditions

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Fatty liver disease and heritability

NAFLD is a complex disorder with environmental and genetic contributions. Twin studies have shown heritability is around 50% for liver fat accumulation and scarring (fibrosis).¹

Having family members with fatty liver disease doesn’t mean you will develop the disease, but you may be more susceptible.

Other common causes of fatty liver disease

Researchers haven’t discovered one specific thing that guarantees you will develop fatty liver disease. Certain factors make NAFLD development more likely, including:

  • Eating too many calories

  • Obesity

  • Diabetes 

  • Dyslipidemia

  • Metabolic syndrome

  • Insulin resistance

Signs of fatty liver disease

This disease often presents with little to no symptoms, making it hard to identify. Your doctor may pick up on it during a routine blood test, or you may notice symptoms such as:

  • Discomfort in your upper-right abdomen

  • Fatigue

  • A general feeling of being unwell

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms and are concerned you may have fatty liver disease, seek advice from a medical professional. They will perform numerous tests and examinations to determine the cause of your discomfort.

Risk factors for developing fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease is the most common liver disease, affecting around 24% of US adults.²

Some studies have suggested gender differences in NAFLD, but the commonly accepted consensus is that men and women are affected equally. 

Ethnicity may also affect your likelihood of developing fatty liver disease in the US. Some studies found different ethnicities may have different heritabilities; however, researchers have yet to establish a causal relationship. 

Wagenknecht et al.'s study’s Hispanic group had 33% heritability compared to the Black group, with 14% heritability.³

Protecting your liver

There are multiple ways to avoid damaging your liver. Most of these involve reducing the toxins it has to filter from your bloodstream. 

Minimizing alcohol consumption can reduce the liver's workload and increase its longevity. Washing produce can also minimize toxins from pesticides. 

Obesity is a critical factor in the development of fatty liver disease, so exercising and eating a healthy, balanced diet can reduce your risk. 

Hepatitis A, B, and C increase your risk for liver disease. You can avoid contracting this by getting vaccinated, practicing safe sex, and washing your hands regularly. 

The lowdown

Research suggests that fatty liver disease can be passed on to family members. This does not mean you are guaranteed to develop it if you have a family member with the disease. It is simply a contributing factor. 

Many lifestyle factors can contribute, so taking care of your body and practicing a healthy lifestyle is important. This means maintaining a healthy weight, eating well, limiting alcohol consumption, and practicing safe sex.

People also ask

Can genetic fatty liver be cured?

Fatty liver disease currently has no medications to reverse or cure it. However, lifestyle changes can help. Losing at least 5–7% of your total body weight can reduce your symptoms. This requires a slow, controlled process with the help of your healthcare provider. Losing weight too fast can actually worsen your symptoms.⁴

If fatty liver progresses, it can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, which is scarring and damage. This is more permanent and much harder to manage. It’s essential to identify the disease close to the onset and protect your liver as much as possible.

How serious is fatty liver disease?

Mild fatty liver disease is often reversible with treatment. However, it can progress to life-threatening conditions. This includes severe liver disease, liver failure, and liver cancer. Your doctor will assess how serious your disease is and prescribe the treatment you need.

Where do you feel liver pain?

Your liver is in the upper abdomen on the right-hand side, just under the ribs. Pain from NAFLD is typically vague right upper quadrant discomfort. 

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