What Is Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
NAFLD (Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) is a condition where too much fat is stored in the liver. This is not caused by heavy alcohol use. You may have no symptoms at first, but over time it can lead to serious problems. There are two main types of NAFLD:
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), when the buildup of fat in the liver causes inflammation and damage. This causes the liver to not work as well as it should. Over time, NASH can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.
- Simple fatty liver (NAFL), when there is buildup of fat in the liver but it does not cause inflammation or damage. Most people with NAFLD do not have inflammation and scarring with it.
Clinical research is growing our understanding of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and how to treat it. Read on to learn more.
If you are living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, we would like to hear from you.
- Please tell us about your experience living with NAFLD or NASH in our brief online survey.
- At the end of the survey, you can sign up to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial.
- We also invite you to join our liver disease online patient community and connect with others about NAFLD or NASH.
Thank you for sharing with us.
Who is at risk for NAFLD and NASH?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States. In fact, about 30-40% of people in the United States have NAFLD. However, not everyone with NAFLD gets NASH; in the United States, NASH affects about 3-12%.
NAFLD is more common in people with obesity and related conditions, such as Type 2 diabetes. Key risk factors include:
- Age. Although NAFLD can affect anyone at any age, the risk increases with age.
- Ethnicity. Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites in America are more likely to develop NAFLD than African Americans. Asian Americans are more likely than other ethnic or racial groups to develop NAFLD when their weight is within normal range.
- Obesity. Being obese greatly increases your risk of NAFLD and NASH.
- Diet. NAFLD is linked to unhealthy eating habits including diets high in fructose and soft drinks, low in fiber, high in meat, saturated fat and cholesterol, low in fish or omega-3 fatty acids or PUFA, and low in some vitamins.
Several other conditions also increase the risk of NAFLD and NASH:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High cholesterol
- High triglycerides
- Metabolic syndrome
- Insulin resistance
- Long-term use of certain medications, such as Tamoxifen (estrogen modulator used as an anti-cancer agent)
Symptoms & Complications
What are the symptoms and complications of NAFLD and NASH?
NAFLD and NASH are called silent diseases because people may not have any symptoms. At first, the main symptoms may be discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen and fatigue.
Symptoms of NASH include:
- Weight loss (for no reason)
- Loss of appetite
- Aching in upper right part of the belly
- Spider-like blood vessels
- Jaundice (a condition that causes the skin and whites of the eyes to turn yellow)
- Swelling of the legs (edema)
- Mental confusion
Both NAFLD and NASH are linked to cardiovascular disease. NASH can lead to serious complications including:
- Liver cirrhosis (scarring)
- Liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC)
- Liver failure
Diagnosis & Treatment
How are NAFLD and NASH diagnosed?
Doctors use the following methods to diagnose NAFLD and NASH:
- Medical history to determine other health conditions such as high cholesterol or diabetes, alcohol consumption history, and family history
- Physical exam to check if your liver is swollen or inflamed, signs of insulin resistance, or signs of scarring (cirrhosis) such as jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes)
- Blood tests
- CT scan
- MRI scan
- Liver biopsy
- Fibroscan (alternative to biopsy to detect liver scarring by stiffness)
Who treats NAFLD and NASH?
Most NAFLD and NASH patients see their family doctor for care. Specialists include:
- Endocrinologists (endocrine system specialists who typically see diabetic patients)
- Gastroenterologists (digestive organs and liver specialists)
- Hepatologists (Liver specialists)
How are NAFLD and NASH treated?
NAFLD and NASH are mainly managed with changes to diet and exercise. There is no currently approved treatment, but the following medicines are used to manage related symptoms or conditions:
- Insulin sensitizers such as Pioglitazone (Actos) or Rosiglitazone (Avandia)
- Weight loss medications such as Orlistat (alli, Xenical)
- Nutrients or supplements such as Betaine (Cystadane) or Vitamin E
Clinical Trials - Learn More
Clinical trials are helping medical researchers better understand and treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Finding these answers depends on people like you to take part.
Have you considered taking part in a clinical trial for people with NAFLD or NASH?
Potential benefits of participating in a clinical trial include:
- Close care and monitoring by a study doctor and staff throughout the study
- No cost for study treatment, related tests and procedures
- Contribute to our understanding of the treatment options for liver disease
If you would like to be considered for an upcoming clinical trial in NAFLD or NASH, take our survey.
Please take some time to answer a few questions and be considered for an upcoming clinical trial for people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. We also invite you to join our patient community.
Thank you for sharing with us.
If you would like to be notified about an upcoming clinical trial, you may sign up at the end of our survey.