Research has found that fatty liver may be caused by genetics. However, further research is still needed to confirm whether a singular gene or combination of hereditary factors could be the cause.

Fatty liver disease is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. There are two types: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).

There are several causes of fatty liver disease, and researchers believe genetics may be one of them. However, further research is still needed to determine precisely how genetic factors can contribute to the development of the condition.

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NAFLD can affect anyone regardless of race or ethnicity. However, in the United States, it’s more common among Hispanic and Asian Americans.

A review article published in 2021 states that genetic factors have led to NAFLD in 27% to 39% of cases. The review focused on the PNPLA3 gene, which plays a role in liver fat content, as well as other phenomena linked to NAFLD, including liver inflammation, hepatic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis, and fibrosis.

Recent research hypothesizes that no singular gene leads to NAFLD but that a combination of gene factors might increase the risk.

A 2017 research review stated that many studies have examined the heritability of NAFLD. The estimates ranged from 20% to 70%. This offers some support to the idea that biological family history might contribute to NAFLD risk. However, further research is still needed to determine how they may be connected.

There’s no one cause of NAFL, but your medical history, diet, and gut microbiome might all play a role. You might be more likely to have NAFL if you also have:

Diets high in fructose, a type of sugar, might also increase NAFLD risk. Changes in the makeup of your gut bacteria, or microbiome, can also contribute to NAFLD.

Often, people with NAFLD do not experience symptoms, although they might experience fatigue and abdominal pain. People whose NAFLD has caused cirrhosis of the liver might have symptoms such as:

A doctor can diagnose fatty liver through a combination of tests and physical exams. This includes:

  • Imaging techniques: They can try to detect fatty liver using methods such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
  • Assessing your medical history: They’ll also ask about your medical history to see if you have any of the risk factors for NAFLD, such as type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome.
  • Physical examination: They might examine you for physical signs of insulin resistance, such as skin color changes, and signs of cirrhosis, like an enlarged spleen or muscle loss.

A doctor might also send for the following tests:

Only a liver biopsy offers a conclusive diagnosis of NAFLD.

Doctors usually recommend weight loss and physical activity to treat NAFLD. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), losing 3% to 5% of body weight can reduce fat in the liver, while losing 7% to 10% of body weight can reduce liver inflammation and fibrosis.

If you have complications from cirrhosis, a doctor might recommend specific treatment options, such as:

  • medications to lower blood pressure or remove fluid from the body if you have portal hypertension
  • medications to lower toxins in the brain if you have hepatic encephalopathy
  • antibiotics to treat bacterial infections

Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer or liver failure. In this case, a doctor might recommend cancer treatment or a liver transplant.

What is the life expectancy of a person with fatty liver disease?

Those with fatty liver disease may have a lower life expectancy of 2.8 years compared to those who do not have the condition. However, there are many lifestyle measures, like exercise and diet, that can help manage the condition.

Does fatty liver go away?

In some cases, eating a nutritious diet and following an exercise regimen can cause fatty liver to slow down or go away.

What does a liver belly look like?

A liver belly can look like a swollen and protruding abdomen. In most cases, weight gain may only accumulate in the midsection, but not the arms or legs.

There are some genes that are linked to the development of fatty liver disease, but further research is still needed to determine if the condition is hereditary.

There are several other factors that can put you at a higher risk for NAFLD, including conditions like metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or obesity.

If you’re concerned about your symptoms and think you may have fatty liver disease, consider speaking with a doctor. They can provide a diagnosis and, if needed, put together a tailored treatment plan based on your individual needs and medical history.