Fatty Liver Disease & Treatment

Struggling with Fatty Liver? Speak to us today for an accurate diagnosis and customised treatment plan.

Dr Tan Yu-Meng
Director, Consultant General Surgeon


Fatty liver disease, a condition characterised by the accumulation of excess fat in the liver cells, is a growing health concern worldwide. It is associated with metabolic syndrome, obesity, and type 2 diabetes, among other conditions. Identifying and treating fatty liver disease is important as it can progress to more serious liver conditions, including cirrhosis and liver cancer if left untreated.

Understanding Fatty Liver Disease

The liver plays a vital role in the body, performing functions such as detoxifying harmful substances, producing bile to aid in digestion, and storing glucose for energy.

There are two main types of fatty liver disease:

  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): This is the most common type and is not related to alcohol consumption. NAFLD is further divided into two categories: simple fatty liver, where there is only fat in the liver, and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), where there is inflammation and damage to the liver cells along with fat.
  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD): This type is directly related to heavy alcohol consumption. Over time, the excessive intake of alcohol can lead to alcoholic hepatitis, cirrhosis, and other serious complications.

Causes and Risk Factors of Fatty Liver

Fatty liver disease can be caused by several factors:


This is a major risk factor for NAFLD. The excess fat can lead to the accumulation of fat in the liver.

Insulin resistance

Conditions such as type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome can increase the accumulation of fat in the liver.

High cholesterol and high triglycerides

These conditions can contribute to the build-up of fat in the liver.

Rapid weight loss

Losing weight too quickly can lead to a surge in the amount of fat in your liver.

Certain medical conditions

Conditions such as hypothyroidism, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), and sleep apnea have been associated with an increased risk of NAFLD.

Symptoms and Complications of Fatty Liver Disease

Common symptoms associated with fatty liver disease include:

  • Fatigue: A constant feeling of tiredness or exhaustion.
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen: This is where the liver is located.
  • Unexplained weight loss: This can be a sign of a more serious stage of liver disease.


If left untreated, fatty liver disease can lead to serious complications, including cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver due to long-term liver damage. This can lead to liver failure, a life-threatening condition. In some cases, fatty liver disease can also increase the risk of liver cancer.

Diagnosis of Fatty Liver Disease

The diagnosis of fatty liver disease typically involves:

  • Blood tests: These can detect inflammation or liver damage.
  • Imaging tests: Ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI can show fat in the liver.
  • Liver biopsy: A small sample of liver tissue is taken and examined under a microscope to confirm the diagnosis and determine the severity of the disease.

Early detection of fatty liver disease allows for timely intervention, potentially preventing the progression to more serious liver conditions.

Treatment Options for Fatty Liver Disease

The first line of treatment for fatty liver disease involves changes to diet and exercise habits. This includes adopting a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains, and low in saturated fats, sugars, and alcohol. Regular physical activity is also often prescribed, as it can help to reduce liver fat in the liver and improve liver function.

Currently, there are no approved medications specifically for fatty liver disease but certain medications used for other conditions, such as diabetes, have shown some promise in treating fatty liver disease. For instance, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases recommends vitamin E (an antioxidant) and pioglitazone (used to treat diabetes) for biopsy-proven NASH. These treatments are not suitable for everyone and should be discussed with a healthcare provider.

In severe cases where fatty liver disease has progressed to cirrhosis, liver transplantation may be considered. This is typically a last resort when other treatment options have failed.

Regular follow-up care is crucial in managing fatty liver disease. This includes regular check-ups with your healthcare provider, routine liver function tests, and monitoring for signs of progression to more serious liver conditions.

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Dr Tan Yu-Meng

Director, Consultant General Surgeon

Dr Tan continues to be one of few surgeons in Asia who perform specialized surgery for peritoneal malignancies in Asia.

  • MBBS (Bachelor of Medicine & Surgery, First Class Honors & Distinction at the University of London) 1994
  • RCSEd (Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons Edinburgh) 1999
  • Further training in advanced HPB surgery and liver transplantation at the world renowned Liver Unit of Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Birmingham, United Kingdom.
  • Further training in living donor liver transplantation in Japan.

With his interest in gastrointestinal and hepatobiliary-pancreatic (GI-HPB) surgery and the treatment of cancer, Dr Tan joined the department of surgical oncology at the National Cancer Centre in 2003 as a consultant.

Dr Tan’s interest in the management of peritoneal surface malignancies was part of his effort in leading a multidisciplinary team from NCC to Washington Cancer Institute to adopt the techniques and protocols of peritonectomy and HIPEC (Sugarbaker procedure) from Dr Paul Sugarbaker in 2009.

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