Fatty liver disease is a condition that occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver cells. … and it’s common, affecting more than 150 million people each year in the United States.

Penn Medicine’s Liver Metabolism and Fatty Liver Program, led by Rotonya Carr, MD, is the first of its kind in the Philadelphia region to offer a comprehensive approach to the diagnosis and management of metabolic and fatty liver disorders. Our specialists treat metabolic liver disorders, as well as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease.

We focus on how your diet, the use of certain substances, metabolism, genetics and environment work together to impact the health of your liver. We also use state of the art, non-invasive technologies to diagnose and manage your liver condition, and provide leading-edge endoscopic and surgical options when appropriate.

We’ll work with you to develop a personalized plan to manage your specific metabolic or fatty liver disease, including opportunities to participate in the latest clinical trials and other research opportunities available only at Penn Medicine.

Our team includes the following specialists:

  • Hepatologists
  • Transplant hepatologists
  • Gastroenterologists with expertise in nutrition
  • Liver geneticists
  • Endocrinologists
  • Preventive cardiologists and lipidologists with expertise in reducing cardiovascular risk and controlling cholesterol disorders
  • Addiction specialists
  • Advanced endoscopists who offer non-surgical weight-loss therapies
  • Bariatric surgeons
  • Advanced practitioner providers
  • Nurses
  • Nutritionists

What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease refers to liver conditions that occur when too much fat is stored in your liver cells. It is normal to have some fat in your liver, but a liver with more than 5 percent fat is considered a fatty liver.

What are the risk factors for fatty liver disease?

Risk factors for fatty liver disease include obesity, type 2 diabetes, pre-diabetes/insulin resistance, certain genetic disorders, increased abdominal fat, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.

And while fatty liver disease is often associated with excessive alcohol consumption, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is common in people who drink little or no alcohol. In fact, it is the most common form of chronic liver disease in the United States and affects between 80 and 100 million people.

Fatty liver disease can also lead to other conditions. Once you develop a fatty liver, you are likely to develop diabetes within three years.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

Most people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms. However, you may experience fatigue or pain. Inflammation and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) can also occur if your condition is not managed properly.

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed?

Talk with your doctor if you are at risk for developing a fatty liver.  People who are overweight, pre-diabetic or diabetic, or have a personal or family history of hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, fatty liver or unknown liver disease are at the greatest risk.

Your doctor will then order a liver test and a liver ultrasound to diagnose your condition. Unlike many liver diseases, NAFLD only rarely requires a biopsy for diagnosis. Blood tests and elastography (needleless probe) are often sufficient for diagnosis.

If an ultrasound or other imaging determines you have a fatty liver, your doctor will then work to figure out the cause. He or she might also refer you to a liver specialist depending on how advanced your fatty liver disease may be.

Is there a cure for fatty liver disease?

You can manage your fatty liver disease, but the condition cannot be cured. Options to manage your condition include:

  • Reducing the amount of carbohydrates and starches you consume, such as bread, pasta, potatoes and rice
  • Avoiding sugary drinks and foods and drinks that contain high-fructose corn syrup
  • Losing weight with improved diet and exercise
  • Managing your blood sugar and cholesterol levels to lower your risk of heart disease
  • Having regular, routine cancer screenings

Weight loss outperforms all other methods for managing the disease. There are also several clinical trials available only at Penn Medicine that are researching ways to treat fatty liver disease. Learn more about current clinical trials here.

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Treatment Team Liver Metabolism and Fatty Liver

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