Dan Pratt, MD and Kathleen Corey, MD, MPH  

Fatty Liver Clinic: FAQs

Learn more about fatty liver disease and how physicians at the MGH Fatty Liver Clinic diagnose and treat patients with these conditions.

  1. What is fatty liver disease?
  2. Fatty liver occurs when excess fat is stored in the liver cells (hepatocytes). In some patients this fat causes the liver to be irritated or inflamed. Long term inflammation of the liver can result in the development of scar tissue in some patients and even cirrhosis.

  3. Are there different types of fatty liver disease?
  4. Yes, there are two important types of fatty liver disease. Steatosis occurs when only fat is deposited in the liver but no inflammation or scarring occurs. Steatohepatitis (NASH) occurs when the fat deposited in the liver causes inflammation and in some cases scarring of the liver. NASH can progress to cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and can even require a liver transplant so early diagnosis of this condition is very important. Unfortunately, in most cases the only way to distinguish between steatosis and NASH is through liver biopsy.

  5. What causes fatty liver disease?
  6. The exact causes of fatty liver disease are unknown. However, we do know that being overweight or obese and having diabetes increase the risk of developing fatty liver disease.

  7. How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?
  8. Fatty liver is diagnosed with a combination of tests including blood tests, radiographic tests (including ultrasound or MRI) and for certain patients, liver biopsy.

  9. Does fatty liver disease run in families?
  10. Fatty liver disease has been found to have genetic components indicating it can run in families. Patients with family members with fatty liver and diabetes are at increased risk of fatty liver.

  11. How can fatty liver disease be treated?
  12. Fatty liver disease is treated with a combination of weight loss, exercise and medications. At the MGH Fatty Liver Clinic your clinician will assess your condition and work with you to identify the best treatment plan for you.

  13. Can fatty liver disease cause cirrhosis of the liver?
  14. Yes, cirrhosis develops in a proportion of patients with fatty liver disease. While patients with obesity or diabetes mellitus have the highest risk of developing cirrhosis, even patients without these risk factors can develop cirrhosis.

  15. Can I develop cirrhosis even if I don’t drink alcohol?
  16. Unfortunately, yes. Any patient whose liver is chronically irritated or inflamed can develop cirrhosis even if he or she never drinks alcohol.

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