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How Is Fatty Liver Disease Treated?

fatty liver disease

Alcoholic fatty liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are the most significant causes of chronic liver disease in the US. The two variations of this disease differ in the reason excess fat accumulates, but both create a serious health condition.     

While ALD typically reverses when you stop drinking alcohol, NAFLD can progress to cause inflammation that can lead to liver failure. Board-certified gastroenterologist John M. Rivas, MD, at Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, offers customized treatments for many digestive diseases and conditions — including fatty liver disease.  

If you have NAFLD, take a moment to learn about the treatments available and the steps you can take to reclaim your liver health.     

What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

About 1 in 3 American adults has NAFLD, making it the most common chronic liver condition in the US. Unlike ALD, which is caused by heavy drinking and affects about 5% of adults in the US, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease refers to a buildup of fat in your liver triggered by lifestyle and other risk factors. 

For some people with NAFLD, the disease progresses into a more serious condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Approximately 5% of Americans have been diagnosed with NASH. Here’s a closer look at the differences between the two:  

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

NAFLD occurs when you have a buildup of fat in your liver, but the cells haven’t sustained damage and the organ isn’t inflamed. While some people with no risk factors develop NAFLD for unknown reasons, most share one or more risk factors, including:

You’re also more likely to develop NAFLD if you are Asian or Hispanic or are a postmenopausal woman. Sometimes, NAFLD may be triggered by the use of some medications, exposure to certain toxins, or rare genetic diseases (e.g., Wilson disease).  

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)

NASH is a more advanced form of NAFLD. You’re diagnosed with NASH if your NAFLD has caused inflammation of the liver and damage to the liver cells. Together, the inflammation and cell damage trigger scarring of your liver, in a process called fibrosis. 

Over time, the scarring builds and causes a condition called cirrhosis. The scar tissue creates blockages in the liver, causing bile to accumulate in the organ and hindering healthy liver function. 

Early-stage cirrhosis may not have noticeable symptoms. However, as it progresses it can cause: 

People with NASH have an increased risk of developing liver cancer due to the growth and spread of unhealthy cell tissue. Cirrhosis isn’t reversible, and the goal of treatment is to slow the progression of the scar tissue. 

How are NAFLD and NASH treated?

While no current medications exist to cure fatty liver disease, there are treatments available to help manage or reverse the condition. The type of fatty liver disease you’re diagnosed with helps inform the customized treatment plan Dr. Rivas creates. 

Treating NAFLD

For patients with NAFLD but no inflammation or cell damage, making key lifestyle changes can reverse fatty liver disease in most stages. Some of these changes include:

For patients whose fatty liver disease has progressed to NASH, Dr. Rivas may make additional treatment recommendations. 

Treating NASH

While the FDA hasn’t approved medication for NASH, some therapies help prevent the cirrhosis from worsening. In addition to the lifestyle changes listed above, your NASH treatment plan may include:

In the most severe cases of NASH, Dr. Rivas may recommend a liver transplant to replace the non-functional liver with a healthy organ. 

Ready to learn more about treating fatty liver disease? Contact the Rivas Digestive Center in Hollywood, Florida, at 954-228-5882 or book an online consultation at your convenience. 

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