Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the United States. In NAFLD, excess fat accumulates in the liver of a person who drinks little or no alcohol. Dr. Malone, can you tell us more about NAFLD?
Absolutely, Major Spencer. The most common form of NAFLD is called simple fatty liver. People with simple fatty liver have fat in the liver cells but little or no inflammation or liver cell damage. Although fat in the liver is not normal, it does little or no damage by itself.
A more serious, but far less common, form of NAFLD is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. People with NASH have inflammation and liver cell damage in addition to excess fat in the liver. NASH can eventually lead to a buildup of scar tissue in the liver, called cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
Most people with either form of NAFLD don't have any symptoms, but when symptoms do present, they can include fatigue and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.
There are several factors that increase the likelihood of developing NAFLD, but the most common cause is thought to be obesity. Metabolic syndrome, which is a group of conditions linked to obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, is also closely associated with NAFLD. Insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes are other risk factors.
Weight loss is the most commonly recommended treatment for NAFLD. For people who have other conditions associated with NAFLD, such as diabetes, treatment of the associated condition may also help control fat in the liver.