Steatohepatitis (or "fatty liver disease") occurs when the normal liver cells are replaced by fat, leading to a poorly functioning liver. There are two types of steatohepatitis: alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
As the name suggests, alcoholic steatohepatitis occurs due to damage from long-term alcohol abuse. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH) occurs when the disease is not associated with excess alcohol intake. Usually, the cause of NASH (or NAFLD) is obesity or diabetes.
Long term complications of fatty liver disease include cirrhosis, which means that the liver is no longer functioning properly. Unfortunately, many people with fatty liver disease do not know they have a problem until it is too late to prevent liver damage. In these cases, preventing further damage to the liver is critical. If alcohol is the cause, than discontinuing consumption of alcohol will reduce further damage. For people with NASH, losing weight, reducing fat intake, managing diabetes effectively, following a healthy diet, and exercising regularly are the best ways to prevent additional damage.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Anyone who believes they may have fatty liver or steatohepatitis should see a primary care doctor and a hepatologist for further evaluation. Blood tests to evaluate liver function and a biopsy to determine the amount of fat in the liver will probably be used to make the diagnosis.
Physician specialists at the Center for Liver Diseases work closely with other team members to manage fatty liver disease. Our nutritionists and/or diabetes educators work with patients to manage their weight and/or diabetes. If alcohol is at the root of the problem, then our social work staff can offer a variety of opportunities to help patients overcome their addiction.