Fatty liver disease and constipation can be interconnected. Improving your liver health can help you relieve constipation and other digestive issues.

Fatty liver disease and constipation are both common health concerns that can have a significant effect on your daily life.

Fatty liver disease (also known as hepatic steatosis) happens when fat builds up in the liver, causing inflammation and damage.

Constipation, on the other hand, is a digestive issue, which causes you to have infrequent bowel movements or difficulty passing stool.

While these two conditions may seem unrelated at first glance, emerging research suggests there may be a link between them.

In this article, we explore the connection between fatty liver disease and constipation and discuss how to manage these conditions.

Recent research has found a potential link between fatty liver disease and digestive issues like constipation.

While the exact relationship is not fully understood, there is evidence that the gut and liver may influence each other. This connection is often referred to as the “gut-liver axis.”

The gut microbiome, or the balance of healthy and harmful bacteria in your digestive tract, is important in maintaining healthy liver function. Disrupting the gut microbiome can result in both digestive and liver issues.

One of the digestive conditions people with fatty liver commonly experience is called irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS is a group of intestinal disorders. One type of this syndrome, known as IBS-C, can cause you to have long-term, or chronic, constipation.

The exact prevalence of people having both IBS and fatty liver isn’t yet known.

But a 2021 review of studies concluded that between 13% and 74% of people with IBS may have metabolic-dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD).

This was previously known as nonalcohol-related fatty liver disease, the most common type of fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease may also be linked to other gastrointestinal problems. Let’s take a closer look at these connections.

Fatty liver and diarrhea

People with fatty liver can also be prone to having diarrhea, which also can be a consequence of the disrupted gut-liver axis. A 2019 study of 127 people with MASLD found that 25% of them had chronic diarrhea.

Fatty liver and IBS

Besides IBS associated with constipation, people with fatty liver can develop IBS with diarrhea (IBS-D) or IBS with both diarrhea and constipation (IBS-M, where “M” stands for “mixed”). The gut-liver axis may also play a role in this association.

Fatty liver and other bowel issues

Fatty liver disease that has progressed to MASLD may cause you to have gray-colored stools. In the later stages of this condition, known as cirrhosis, your stools can become black or tarry.

Be sure to get medical advice if you’re experiencing persistent constipation or other gastrointestinal issues. In addition, seek medical attention if you have any symptoms of a liver condition, such as yellow skin or dark urine.

Early diagnosis and management of fatty liver disease can help prevent complications and improve your quality of life.

If you have fatty liver disease and constipation, targeting both the liver and the gut can help relieve these symptoms. Treatment may include:

  • Dietary changes: Increasing fiber intake by eating fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can help relieve constipation. Drinking plenty of water is also important for regular bowel movements.
  • Exercise: Regular physical activity can help stimulate the digestive system and prevent constipation.
  • Medications: You can use over-the-counter laxatives for short-term constipation relief. Still, be sure to consult with a doctor before using them, especially if you have fatty liver disease.
  • Probiotics: Probiotics can help restore the balance of bacteria in your gut and improve digestive health.
  • Managing fatty liver: Treating the underlying fatty liver disease may also help alleviate constipation. Your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes, such as:
    • losing weight
    • quitting drinking alcohol, if applicable
    • managing other health conditions

Some forms of fatty liver disease may be reversed if it doesn’t progress to cirrhosis.

Let’s discuss a few questions people with fatty liver frequently ask their doctors.

Does fatty liver affect bowel movements?

Fatty liver can affect bowel movements through the gut-liver axis. This may lead to changes in gut function and contribute to digestive issues like constipation and diarrhea.

Can a fatty liver affect your digestive system?

Fatty liver disease can influence your digestive system by changing the gut microbiome and causing inflammation. These changes can disrupt the typical functioning of your digestive tract and lead to different gastrointestinal issues.

Can constipation cause liver problems?

Constipation itself isn’t likely to directly cause liver problems. But it can indicate an underlying health issue, which sometimes can be fatty liver disease.

If you experience chronic constipation, it’s important to get medical advice to investigate the cause of this symptom.

If you’re experiencing persistent gastrointestinal issues, be sure to speak with a healthcare professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.