If I have diabetes, is there anything special I need to do to take care of my liver?

Answers from M. Regina Castro, M.D.

You're wise to wonder about steps to protect your liver. Diabetes raises your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition in which excess fat builds up in your liver even if you drink little or no alcohol.

This condition occurs in at least half of those with type 2 diabetes and close to half of those with type 1. Other medical conditions, such as obesity, high cholesterol and high blood pressure, also raise your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease itself often causes no symptoms. But it raises your risk of developing liver inflammation or scarring (cirrhosis). It's also linked to an increased risk of liver cancer and heart disease.

Fatty liver disease may have even played a role in the development of your type 2 diabetes initially. Once you have both conditions, poorly managed type 2 diabetes can make fatty liver disease worse.

Your best defense against fatty liver disease includes these strategies:

  • Work with your health care team to achieve good control of your blood sugar.
  • Lose weight if you need to, and try to maintain a healthy weight.
  • Take steps to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Keep your low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or "bad") cholesterol and triglycerides — a type of blood fat — within recommended limits.
  • Don't drink too much alcohol.

If you have diabetes, your doctor may recommend an ultrasound examination of your liver when you're first diagnosed and regular follow-up blood tests to monitor your liver function.

With

M. Regina Castro, M.D.

Aug. 13, 2014