Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease describes a range of conditions that are caused by an accumulation of excess fat in the liver cells. The disease affects 1 in 10 Australians. Whilst it is normal for your liver to hold fat, if it is more than 10% of the liver weight then you are at an increased risk of developing serious complications.

What causes fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver is not caused by the consumption of high-fat foods. It is linked with the following health problems.

Most common:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes/Insulin resistance
  • Heavy alcohol consumption
  • High cholesterol & triglycerides

Less common:

  • Pregnancy
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Some medications (corticosteroids)

What is Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?

NAFLD is the most common kind of fatty liver disease caused by excess fat in the liver. It is reversible and in its simplest form should not cause complications.

What is Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)?

NAFLD can progress into NASH when the accumulated fat in the liver cells causes inflammation to the liver. The progression to NASH is usually slow, but can rapidly worsen if you suffer from other liver diseases such as hepatitis B or C, or if you drink too much alcohol. The progression of NASH can lead to scarring and hardening of the liver and may develop into more serious chronic liver diseases such as liver cirrhosis.

In some cases, the inflammation to the liver is caused by an excessive consumption of alcohol. This disease is known as alcoholic steatohepatitis.

NAFLD (Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) and NASH (Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis) are two of the fastest growing causes of chronic liver disease in the western world.

Cirrhosis of the liver is rare but can occur due to NASH. It is caused by fat deposits inflaming the liver cells causing progressive scarring and eventual liver failure. There are many potential co-contributing factors including Diabetes, High Cholesterol and Obesity.

It is important to have other causes of chronic liver disease ruled out. At times, a Liver biopsy may be required to fully diagnose the condition and also the severity of liver scarring.

How does NASH occur?

NASH typically occurs in people who are:

  • Overweight
  • Diabetic
  • Have high cholesterol and triglyceride levels

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?

Fatty liver disease is not associated with any particular symptoms so it can be difficult to diagnose without a routine blood test. If the blood test indicates a liver problem, your doctor may order an ultrasound or liver biopsy.

A biopsy is where a tiny sample of your liver is taken and examined under a microscope for signs of fat accumulation, inflammation and scarring.


The main treatment with scientific evidence is weight loss. Improving control of Diabetes and Cholesterol can help as well. Common risk factors are excessive consumption of alcohol, obesity and diet. These lifestyle factors need to be addressed to prevent the development of liver cirrhosis. The dietitian at Gippsland Gastroenterology can assist in improving and maintaining these goals. To find out more, please contact us.

How can a dietitian help?

People with fatty liver disease can improve their health through lifestyle and diet modification. A specialist dietitian can assist in optimising your current diet through small and sustainable changes that will suit your lifestyle. An individualised plan will be developed, focusing on the risk factors contributing to your fatty liver disease. Resources and other materials may be provided to help you successfully follow the plan at home.