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

Answer From M. Regina Castro, M.D.

It’s smart to think about how to protect your liver. Diabetes raises your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In this condition, fat builds up in your liver even if you drink little or no alcohol.

At least half of people living with type 2 diabetes have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Experts don’t know whether people with type 1 diabetes get the condition more often than do others. The frequency of obesity, which raises the risk of getting type 2 diabetes, is about the same in people with type 1 or type 2 diabetes. Other medical conditions also raise your risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. These conditions include high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Fatty liver disease usually doesn’t cause symptoms. But it raises your risk of developing swelling or scarring in the liver, a condition called cirrhosis. It also increases your risk of liver cancer, heart disease and kidney disease.

Fatty liver disease may even play a role in type 2 diabetes. If you have both conditions and your type 2 diabetes isn’t managed well, it can make fatty liver disease worse.

The best ways to prevent fatty liver disease include the following:

  • Work with your health care team to manage your blood sugar.
  • Lose weight if you need to, and try to stay at a healthy weight.
  • Take steps to reduce high blood pressure.
  • Keep your “bad” cholesterol — also called low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — and blood fat, called triglycerides, within recommended limits.
  • Don’t drink too much alcohol. The recommendation for healthy adults is up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men.

If you have diabetes, your health care provider may recommend an ultrasound examination of your liver when you’re first diagnosed. Then your care provider will likely do regular follow-up blood tests to monitor your liver function.


M. Regina Castro, M.D.


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