While excessive alcohol can lead to fatty liver (Alcohol-Related Fatty Liver Disease), in many cases it does not play a role.
It is associated with obesity and a lack of exercise. It forms part of a metabolic syndrome that includes diabetes mellitus, obesity, high cholesterol and hypertension – all of which increases the risk of cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke.
How do I know if I have it?
Most people with fatty liver disease do not know they have it. There are usually no symptoms till late. Your doctor can do tests to check your liver’s health.
- Blood test- e.g. Liver function test, Lipid panel, Hepatitis panel, Diabetes panel
- Radiology - e.g. US, CT, MRI, Fibroscan, Magnetic resonance elastography
- Liver biopsy – if indicated
It is treated with a healthy balanced diet, regular exercise, and weight loss. Weight loss surgery may be helpful in more severe cases.
Exercising regularly and keeping a healthy weight are important. Your doctor may recommend screening for hepatitis and vaccination against hepatitis A and B. Limitation of alcohol intake is important as well.
Most people with fatty liver will not get chronic liver disease (fibrosis or cirrhosis) if the condition is
mild or well- controlled. Fatty liver in its early phases can be reversed with simple lifestyle changes such
as healthy diet and regular exercise. However, if it progresses or worsens, it can lead to more serious
problems such as liver damage and increased risk of liver cancer.
Seek a liver specialist early to learn more.
Tips to prevent or reverse fatty liver
- If you are overweight or obese, reduce and limit the number of calories you eat each day.
- If you have tried to lose weight in the past and have been unsuccessful, ask your doctor for help.
- Eat a healthy diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
- Aim for at least 20-30 minutes of exercise at least 3 times a week. Choose an activity that is enjoyable and sustainable. Also, remember any exercise is better than none.
- Follow your doctor's instructions to keep control of your diabetes. Take your medications as directed and monitor your blood sugar closely.
- A healthy plant-based diet, exercise and medications if required can help keep your cholesterol and your triglycerides at healthy levels.
- Avoid extra stress on your liver such as alcohol and herbal remedies.
Senior Consultant Hepatopancreatobiliary Surgeon
MBBS, MMed (Surgery), MSc, FAMS, FRCSEd
Prior to private practice, Dr Lee Ser Yee was a founding member and Senior Consultant at the Department of Hepatopancreatobiliary (HPB) and Transplant Surgery at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). He served as the Director of the Laparoscopic programme and the Director of the Surgical Skills Training Program and the SingHealth Surgical Skills Centre.
He started his medical training at the National University of Singapore in 1996 and completed his training in General Surgery, HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation at SGH and National Cancer Centre, Singapore.
He also completed dual USA-fellowships in Advanced Laparoscopic HPB surgery and Liver Transplantation under Professor Daniel Cherqui at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Weill Cornell Medical Center and a Complex Surgical Oncology clinical fellowship at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.