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What Can Cause Severe Pain With Fatty Liver Disease?

author image Lucy Burns
Lucy Burns has been writing and editing professionally for more than 15 years. She earned an M.F.A. in creative writing from Cornell University and a Ph.D. in American literature from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she teaches writing. Burns is a certified yoga teacher and is also licensed to teach the Gyrokinesis movement system.
What Can Cause Severe Pain With Fatty Liver Disease?
Man passed out next to empty bottle of liquor Photo Credit g-stockstudio/iStock/Getty Images

Fatty liver disease may be asymptomatic or mildly uncomfortable. However, it can cause more severe discomfort and other problems if left untreated. If you experience intense pain, or pain accompanied by fever and vomiting, the disease may have progressed, or there may be another condition present. See your doctor.


Your liver is located in the upper right side of your abdomen. It is a large organ with a number of critical jobs. It stores glycogen, the sugar your body uses for fuel, and releases it into the bloodstream when needed. It also manufactures key proteins. Perhaps its most essential function, however, is to process fats, proteins and toxins like alcohol and medications, so they can be used by the body or eliminated. When you consume too much fat or too many toxins, the liver can become clogged, exhausted and even scarred.

Alcohol-Induced Fatty Liver Disease

Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease occurs when excessive consumption of alcohol causes the buildup of fats called triglycerides in the cells of the liver. This type of fatty liver disease usually only causes lower back tenderness or generalized abdominal discomfort, not severe pain. In rare cases, you might experience fever, jaundice and spider veins or more intense abdominal discomfort. If the source of the problem – alcohol – is not eliminated from your diet, it can quickly lead to cirrhosis, a scarring of the liver tissue that can lead to liver failure.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NALFD, fat accumulates in the liver's cells for reasons unrelated to alcohol. Common causes include obesity, diabetes, hepatitis and certain medications. Occasionally, a hereditary metabolic problem may be involved. NALFD is often asymptomatic or presents only mild abdominal discomfort. If untreated, however, NALFD can develop into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, in which the fatty cells cause liver inflammation. If the condition persists, fibrosis or scarring may occur. You may remain asymptomatic, or experience persistent pain in the upper right side of your abdomen, which is usually more annoying than intense.


Cirrhosis is the most dangerous result of alcohol-induced fatty liver disease, NALFD and NASH. Although its symptoms rarely appear until the condition is serious, they can be very uncomfortable. These symptoms include extreme fatigue, easy bruising and bleeding, appetite loss and nausea, weight loss and swelling in the legs and abdomen. Cirrhosis is not usually characterized by severe or sharp pain. If you suffer from fatty liver disease or cirrhosis and experience any of these symptoms, or intense or shooting pain in the area, see your doctor.

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