Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. Doctors do not know what causes NAFLD.
They do know that NAFLD happens more often in some people, such as those who:
Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse.
Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
If you already have diabetes, NAFLD increases your chance of developing heart problems.
If detected and managed at an early stage, it’s possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
Most people will only ever develop the first stage, usually without realizing it.
In a small number of cases, it can progress and eventually lead to liver damage if not detected and managed.
But NAFLD has been diagnosed in people without any of these risk factors, including young children.
Although it’s very similar to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), NAFLD is not caused by drinking too much alcohol.
There are not usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages. You probably will not know you have it unless it’s diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.
Occasionally, people with NASH or fibrosis (more advanced stages of NAFLD) may experience:
NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out.
But blood tests do not always pick up NAFLD.
The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of your tummy.
This is a type of scan where sound waves are used to create an image of the inside of your body.
If you’re diagnosed with NAFLD, further tests may be needed to determine which stage you have. This may involve a special blood test or having another type of ultrasound scan (Fibroscan).
Some people may also need a biopsy, where a small sample of liver tissue is taken using a needle so it can be analyzed in a laboratory.
Children and young people with an increased risk of NAFLD (those with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome) should have an ultrasound scan of their liver every 3 years.
Other tests you may have include a CT scan or MRI scan.
Most people with NAFLD will not develop any serious problems, but if you’re diagnosed with the condition it’s a good idea to take steps to stop it getting any worse. Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the main way of managing NAFLD. There is evidence showing Fatty Liver Disease is reversible.
Treatment also may be recommended for associated conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol) or complications.
You may be advised to have regular appointments with your doctor to check your liver function and look for signs of any new problems.
There’s not currently any medicine that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition. For example, your doctor may recommend medicine to treat high blood pressure, treat high cholesterol, treat type 2 diabetes and treat obesity.
If you develop severe cirrhosis and your liver stops working properly, you may need to be put on the waiting list for a liver transplant. Or it may be possible to have a transplant using a section of liver removed from a living donor.
This information is for general informational purposes only. It should not be used to self-diagnose and it is not a substitute for a medical exam, cure, treatment, diagnosis, and prescription or recommendation. It does not create a doctor-patient relationship between any of the physicians affiliated with this content and you. You should not make any change in your health regimen or diet before first consulting a physician and obtaining a medical exam, diagnosis, and recommendation. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.