Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

(NAFLD, Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis [NASH])

Definition

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) involves the build-up of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. It is a common condition. NAFLD may not cause any problems if it is mild. In some cases, it can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. If this is severe, it can cause liver failure.

The Liver

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Causes    TOP

When the liver is unable to break down fats, they build up in liver tissue. Many conditions and diseases make it difficult for the liver to break down fats.

Risk Factors    TOP

NAFLD is more common in men and with increasing age. Other factors that may increase the chances of NAFLD:

Symptoms    TOP

This disease often causes no symptoms. If fatty build-up is causing the liver not to function well, you may have symptoms. Symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eyes—jaundice
  • Itchy skin
  • Lack of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Nausea

NAFLD should be treated as soon as possible. Untreated NAFLD can progress to cirrhosis and increase your risk of other conditions such as chronic kidney disease.

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • Blood tests—to look for raised liver enzymes
  • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the liver
  • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
  • Liver biopsy —a small piece of your liver is removed and examined

Treatment    TOP

Treatment focuses on the factors that are causing fatty liver disease. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment may focus on avoiding certain medications, chemicals, or lifestyle factors that can damage your liver.

If you were born between 1945 and 1965, you should get screened for hepatitis C infection. If left untreated, it can lead to liver failure.

Weight Loss

Weight loss of 10% of a person's body weight has been shown help reduce fat in the liver and improve function. If you are overweight, your doctor may recommend weight loss through:

Medications

Your doctor may recommend medications to control the condition causing NAFLD.

Prevention    TOP

To help reduce the chances of NAFLD:

  • Maintain a healthy weight by eating a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and unsaturated fats.
  • Get at least 30 minutes of daily exercise.
  • Follow your treatment plan if you have other medical conditions that contribute to NAFLD.

RESOURCES:

American Liver Foundation
https://www.liverfoundation.org
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
https://www.niddk.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Liver Foundation
https://www.liver.ca

References:

Bayard M, Holt J, Boroughs E. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Am Fam Physician. 2006;73(11):1961-1968.
Hepatitis C: screening. US Preventive Services Task Force website. Available at: https://www.uspreventiveservicestaskforce.org/Page/Document/UpdateSummaryFinal/hepatitis-c-screening?ds=1&s=hepatitis%20C. Updated June 2013. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: https://www.liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease. Updated October 4, 2011. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.... Updated May 19, 2016. Accessed April 4, 2018.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash. Accessed May 14, 2013.
10/8/2014 1/31/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed...: Musso G, Gambino R, Tabibian JH, et al. Association of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease with chronic kidney disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. PLoS Med. 2014;11(7):e1001680.
Last reviewed April 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Daus Mahnke, MD
Last Updated: 10/8/2014

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