Does Your Liver Have Too Much Fat?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a health problem where there is fat buildup in your liver. It is one of the most common causes of liver disease in the United States. Between 30 and 40 percent of adults in the US have NAFLD.
Heavy alcohol use can cause fat to build up in your liver. However, the fat build up from NAFLD is not caused by heavy alcohol use.
There are two types of NAFLD and people usually develop one type of the other:
- Simple fatty liver: This is a type of NAFLD where you have fat in your liver but little or no swelling or liver damage. Simple fatty liver does not cause liver damage or complications.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): This is a type of NAFLD that along with buildup of fat in your liver causes hepatitis, which is swelling of the liver, as well as liver damage. NASH can lead to cirrhosis, which causes scarring and permanent damage to the liver and even liver cancer.
Who can get nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?
NAFLD is more common in people with obesity and other illnesses related to obesity like type 2 diabetes. NAFLD can affect people of any age, even children. However, you are more likely to get it as you age. Although it can affect people of all races and ethnicities, it is more common in Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites.
What are the symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?
Most people with NAFLD have few or no symptoms. This is the case even if you develop cirrhosis due to the disease. People that have symptoms can feel tired or feel some discomfort in the upper right side of their abdomen.
How is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosed?
Doctors use a person’s medical history, a physical exam and tests to diagnose NAFLD. Your doctor will ask you about your diet, physical activity and alcohol use. They will also look at blood tests to check for diabetes, high levels of cholesterol and signs of liver damage. They may need to take pictures of your liver and if there are sign of liver damage, they may do a liver biopsy, where they will use a needle to remove a small piece of your liver for testing.
How is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease treated?
Doctors recommend losing weight as a way to treat NAFLD. Losing weight can lower the fat buildup in your liver and reduce swelling and scarring in your liver. The best way to lose weight to treat NAFLD is to make healthy eating choices, eat small portions and increase physical activity. However, you should lose the weight over the course of a year since losing weight too quickly can make NAFLD worse.
Although losing around five percent of your body weight can lower fat buildup in your liver, you may need to lose up to 10 percent of your body weight to reduce the swelling in your liver.
How can you prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?
The best way to prevent NAFLD is to eat a healthy diet with small portions and maintain a heathy weight.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease & NASH. (2018). The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash