Fatty Liver Disease

What is it?

A fatty liver can be seen in alcoholics and in people who do not drink. Long-term alcoholism can lead to liver failure, and the first stage of liver disease is a fatty liver. Liver damage can often be reversed if a person stops drinking. If he or she does not, however, liver cells die and are replaced with scar tissue. If an abundance of this tissue develops, it causes the liver to fail.

Ninety-five percent of a person’s liver is made up of liver cells (hepatocytes). The remaining 5 percent of the liver is made up of fat. When this fat percentage exceeds 10 percent, a condition known as steatosis, or fatty liver disease, develops. Nearly 23 percent of adult Americans have this condition.

Who's at Risk?

A typical patient with a fatty liver is an older woman who is obese and possibly diabetic. The condition, however, can occur in both men and women, and in those of normal weight. Fatty liver can also be found in people who consume an excessive amount of alcohol.


Most patients with fatty liver have no symptoms. However, if the liver becomes enlarged, patients may feel nauseous or have pain in their upper-right abdominal area.


Receiving a routine blood test for an unrelated reason is typically how individuals learn they have a fatty liver. The diagnosis is made because liver enzyme levels are abnormally high.