Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the build up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. It is normal for the liver to contain some fat. However, if more than 5% – 10% percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver (steatosis).
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. Rapid weight loss and poor eating habits also may lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
However, some people develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease even if they do not have any risk factors. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects up to 25% of people in the United States.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may cause the liver to swell (steatohepatitis). A swollen liver may cause scarring (cirrhosis) over time and may even lead to liver cancer or liver failure.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease often has no symptoms.
When symptoms occur, they may include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, spider-like blood vessels, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), itching, fluid build up and swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites), and mental confusion.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is initially suspected if blood tests show high levels of liver enzymes. However, other liver diseases are first ruled out through additional tests. Often, an ultrasound is used to confirm the Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease diagnosis.
There are no medical treatments yet for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly may help prevent liver damage from starting or reverse it in the early stages.
- See a doctor who specializes in the liver regularly
- Talk to your doctor about ways to improve your liver health
- Lose weight, if you are overweight or obese
- Lower your cholesterol and triglycerides
- Control your diabetes
- Avoid alcohol
There are ways to prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- Limit alcohol intake
- Only take medicines that you need and follow dosing recommendations.
The more severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is called non-alcoholic steato hepatitis (NASH). Non-alcoholic steato hepatitis causes the liver to swell and become damaged. Non-alcoholic steato hepatitis tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese, or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. However, some people have non-alcoholic steato hepatitis even if they do not have any risk factors.
Most people with non-alcoholic steato hepatitis are between the ages of 40 and 60 years. It is more common in women than in men. NASH often has no symptoms and people can have non-alcoholic steato hepatitis for years before symptoms occur.
Non-alcoholic steato hepatitis is one of the leading causes of cirrhosis in adults in the United States. Up to 25% of adults with non-alcoholic steato hepatitis may have cirrhosis.
- What condition do I have that suggests NAFLD?
- Can NAFLD be reversed? How long can this process take?
- Do I have cirrhosis or scarring of the liver?
- If I do have cirrhosis – how far has the scarring progressed?
- What kinds of lifestyle changes and diet can I make?
- Would it be possible to be connected to a registered dietitian or nutritionist to make a specific meal plan?
- What kinds of physical activities would be OK for me to do?
- Is there a treatment or medication for NAFLD? Are there any clinical trials?
- Will losing weight help me to get rid of this disease?
Support Groups Near You
Visit the American Liver Foundation support group page here to find the closest support group to you.
FATTY LIVER DISEASE & PREVENTION
Dr. Lisa Vanwagner
March 29, 2017
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