Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a type of fatty liver disease not caused by alcohol use.

Overview and Symptoms

There are two types of NAFLD:

  • Simple fatty liver—There is extra fat in the liver but little or no inflammation or liver cell damage. Simple fatty liver typically does not lead to liver damage; however, having fatty liver disease is associated with an increased risk of coronary artery disease.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)—There is extra fat in the liver as well as inflammation and liver cell damage. Inflammation and liver cell damage can cause fibrosis or scarring of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

The cause of NAFLD is not known but it is common in people with type 2 diabetes, who are obese, have high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure or have taken corticosteroids or certain types of cancer drugs.

NAFLD often has no symptoms. If there are symptoms, however, they include fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, weight loss, yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), fluid buildup and swelling of the legs (edema) and confusion and behavior changes.

Treatment at BIDMC

A physical exam, and blood and liver function tests can help diagnose NAFLD. Signs of fatty liver disease such as enlarged liver and jaundice confirm the diagnosis.

A lifestyle change is key to treating NAFLD. The physician will recommend eating a healthy diet with fruits, vegetables and whole grains and limiting salt and sugar. Exercise also helps with weight loss and to reduce fat in the liver.

People with liver disease are more likely to get infections so vaccinations are important. If Hepatitis A or B occur along with NAFLD, it can to lead to liver failure, so vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, the flu and pneumococcal disease are essential.

Learn More

The Liver Center at BIDMC brings together an exceptional team of multidisciplinary providers to offer personalized care and the most advanced treatment options to patients with a variety of liver conditions.

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