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Cut Your Risk for Fatty Liver Disease

Quick: Where does fat build up in your body? You're probably thinking of your belly or thighs. But fat can also accumulate in your organs. When this happens in your liver, it's called fatty liver disease.

Almost one-fourth of all adults have fatty liver disease, and it's more common among people with diabetes. In some cases, it leads to liver failure, liver cancer, and risk for heart disease, according to an article in the journal Diabetes. A healthy lifestyle—and catching the disease early—reduces your risks.

Meet your liver

Your liver filters harmful substances from your blood. That's why drinking alcohol is so hard on the organ—it has to strain out alcohol's toxins.

Even if you don't drink, a medical condition—including being obese or having diabetes—may cause your body to produce extra fat or hold on to fat longer. Fat that makes its way into your bloodstream can end up in your liver. Normally, the liver isn't completely free from fat. But it's officially fatty if fat makes up more than 5 to 10 percent of its weight.

The condition often has no symptoms. However, you might experience:

  • Fatigue

  • Fullness or pain in your abdomen on the upper-right side

  • Weight loss

  • Nausea

Your doctor can detect fatty liver disease with blood or imaging tests if you have symptoms or if he or she thinks you are at high risk.

Lifestyle changes offer hope

There are no FDA-approved medical treatments for fatty liver disease. The best ways to prevent or reverse liver damage include:

  • Exercising

  • Avoiding alcohol

  • Keeping your blood glucose in check

  • Lowering your cholesterol and triglycerides

  • Losing weight if you're heavy. However, it's best to do this slowly—at a rate of 1 to 2 pounds per week. Dropping weight more quickly may make the condition worse.

These steps can also help you prevent fatty liver disease if you don't already have it. Once you're diagnosed, your doctor may recommend that you see a liver specialist.