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Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

Definition

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the buildup of fat in the liver that is NOT caused by drinking too much alcohol. People who have it do not have a history of heavy drinking. NAFLD is usually but not always related to being overweight.

For many people, NAFLD causes no symptoms or problems. A more severe form of the disease is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH can cause cirrhosis and liver failure. It can also cause liver cancer.

Alternative Names

Fatty liver; Steatosis; Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; NASH

Causes

NAFLD is the result of more than normal deposits of fat in the liver. Things that may put you at risk include any of the following:

Other risk factors may include:

  • Rapid weight loss and poor diet
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Bowel disease
  • Certain medicines, such as calcium channel blockers and some cancer drugs

NAFLD also occurs in people who have no known risk factors.

Symptoms

People with NAFLD often have no symptoms. When symptoms occur, the most common include:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen

In people with NASH who have liver damage (cirrhosis), symptoms may include:

  • Weakness
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching
  • Fluid buildup and swelling in the legs and abdomen
  • Mental confusion
  • GI bleeding

Exams and Tests

NAFLD is often found during routine blood tests that are used to see how well the liver is working.

You may have the following tests to measure liver function:

Your health care provider may order certain imaging tests, including:

  • Ultrasound to confirm a diagnosis of NAFLD
  • MRI and CT scan

A liver biopsy is needed to confirm a diagnosis of NASH, the more severe form of NAFLD.

Treatment

There is no specific treatment for NAFLD. The goal is to manage your risk factors and any health conditions.

Your provider will help you understand your condition and the healthy choices that can help you take care of your liver. These may include:

  • Losing weight if you are overweight.
  • Eating a healthy diet that is low in salt.
  • Not drinking alcohol.
  • Staying physically active.
  • Managing health conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure.
  • Getting vaccinated for diseases such as hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
  • Lowering your cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
  • Taking medicines as directed. Talk to your provider about all medicines you take, including herbs and supplements and over-the-counter medicines.

Losing weight and managing diabetes can slow or sometimes reverse the deposit of fat in the liver.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Many people with NAFLD have no health problems and do not go on to develop NASH. Losing weight and making healthy lifestyle choices can help prevent more serious problems.

It is unclear why some people develop NASH. NASH can lead to cirrhosis.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Most people with NAFLD do not know they have it. See your provider if you begin to have unusual symptoms such as fatigue or abdominal pain.

Prevention

To help prevent NAFLD:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Limit alcohol consumption.
  • Use medicines properly.

Gallery

Liver
The liver serves a wide variety of body functions, including detoxifying blood and producing bile that aids in digestion.

References

Chalasani N, Younossi Z, Lavine JE, et al. The diagnosis and management of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: practice guidance from the American Association for the study of liver disease. Hepatology. 2018;67(1):328-357. PMID: 28714183 pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28714183/.

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Eating, diet, and nutrition for NAFLD and NASH. www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash/eating-diet-nutrition. Updated April 2021. Accessed August 11, 2021.

Torres DM, Harrison SA. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In: Feldman M, Friedman LS, Brandt LJ, eds. Sleisenger and Fordtran's Gastrointestinal and Liver Disease: Pathophysiology/Diagnosis/Management. 11th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2021:chap 87.

Last reviewed April 22, 2021 by Michael M. Phillips, MD, Emeritus Professor of Medicine, The George Washington University School of Medicine, Washington, DC. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team..

Related specialties

Clinical Trials: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

UF Health research scientists make medicine better every day. They discover new ways to help people by running clinical trials. When you join a clinical trial, you can get advanced medical care. Sometimes years before it's available everywhere. You can also help make medicine better for everyone else. If you'd like to learn more about clinical trials, visit our clinical trials page. Or click one of the links below:

Lanifibranor in Patients With Type 2 Diabetes & Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

The primary aim is to establish the safety, efficacy and mechanism of action of lanifibranor in patients with type 2 diabetes (T2DM) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Specifically, to determine if lanifibranor decreases intrahepatic…

Investigator
Kenneth Cusi
Status
Accepting Candidates
Ages
21 Years - 75 Years
Sexes
All
NN9931-4553 ESSENCE

Semaglutide is a medicine studied in patients with NASH. Semaglutide is a well-known medicine, which is already used by doctors to treat type 2 diabetes in many countries. Participants will either get semaglutide or a dummy medicine * which…

Investigator
Ginger Clark
Status
Accepting Candidates
Ages
18 Years - N/A
Sexes
All

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