What Causes Fatty Liver Pain?

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  • Written By: A. Pasbjerg
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 27 September 2019
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Fatty liver pain occurs when a person is afflicted with fatty liver disease, or FLD, where large pockets of lipids known as vacuoles accumulate in the liver tissue and it no longer processes and removes fats from the body effectively. Often, the cause of discomfort from the disorder is not actually in the liver itself, but in the surrounding tissues and organs irritated by the swollen, inflamed liver. The organ may become damaged and scarred from the presence of the fat vacuoles, which may cause pain. If the condition goes untreated for long enough, the organ may stop functioning properly, which can also lead to fatty liver pain.

The buildup of fat in the liver caused by FLD often leads to inflammation of the organ, which in turn irritates the organs and tissues nearby. The organ may also grow much larger than normal over time as the fat levels increase; this abnormal growth in turn puts pressure on the area around the liver. Typically, this type of fatty liver pain is felt in the upper right portion of the abdomen. It is generally not a sharp pain, at least not early in the course of the disease, but presents more as a dull ache. This may cause some patients not to seek diagnosis and treatment until the condition has progressed further, leading to additional damage and pain.


Another potential cause of fatty liver pain is damage to the organ. The abnormal buildup of fat vacuoles throughout the liver can cause the nearby healthy tissue to become damaged and scarred. The pockets of fat also often cause the organ to become inflamed, which can lead to further damage if it is not treated promptly and effectively.

Though symptoms of fatty liver disease may be minimal or even nonexistent at first, as the disease progresses it can significantly affect the organ's ability to function and may even cause it to shut down. In cases where the disease has progressed to this point, patients may begin to experience sharp, severe pain that comes on rapidly in the area of the abdomen close to the liver. If this type of fatty liver pain occurs, it is critical that the person seek medical attention immediately. Partial or complete liver failure can have a significant impact on the body and may ultimately be fatal.


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