What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease (also called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) is a condition in which too much fat is stored in the liver. The extra fat can cause the liver to become inflamed (swollen) or irritated. It can also cause cirrhosis (when scar tissue forms in the liver).

What does your liver do?

Your liver filters blood from your stomach and intestines before spreading it throughout the rest of your body.

What are the different types of fatty liver disease?

  • Steatosis is when there is only fat in the liver. There is no inflammation or scarring.
  • Steatohepatitis (also called NASH disease) is when the fat stored in the liver causes inflammation. In some cases, it can also cause scarring.

What causes fatty liver disease?

Doctors are not sure what causes fatty liver disease. But there are certain things that can raise your child’s risk of developing it, such as:

  • Having overweight or obesity, especially around the waist
  • Having diabetes or insulin resistance
  • High levels of fats in the blood
  • Being white, Hispanic or Native American
  • Being male

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

Some children do not have any symptoms of fatty liver disease. Call the doctor if your child develops any of these fatty liver symptoms:

  • Pain in the upper right part of the belly
  • Feeling tired or weak
  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes)
  • Higher levels of liver enzymes in the blood
  • Liver or spleen (a small organ that helps filter blood) that is larger than normal
  • Shortness of breath, especially with exercise

Did you know...?

Fatty liver disease can lead to serious liver conditions like end-stage liver disease, liver cancer and cirrhosis. It is important to diagnose and treat fatty liver disease early on. This way, your child has a lower risk or developing serious liver conditions.

Rev. 2/2018. MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Massachusetts General Hospital do not endorse any of the brands listed on this handout. This handout is intended to provide health information so that you can be better informed. It is not a substitute for medical advice and should not be used to treatment of any medical conditions.