Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) – Symptoms, Causes and Prevention


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a paragliding term for a variety of liver conditions that affect people who drink little to no alcohol. As the name suggests, NAFLD has too much fat contained in the liver cells as its key characteristic.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is also known as fatty liver.

NAFLD is becoming more common around the world, particularly in western nations. In the United States, it is the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting about one-quarter of the population.

Some people with NAFLD may develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive form of fatty liver disease that is marked by hepatic inflammation and may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure. This damage is similar to that from heavy alcohol use.


There aren’t noticeable symptoms in many NAFLD cases. When symptoms occur they usually include:

  • Pain in the right upper section of the abdomen
  • Fatigue
  • Enlarged liver or spleen (usually observed by a doctor during an exam)
  • Ascites, or swelling in the belly
  • Yellowing of skin and eyes, or jaundice

If NAFLD progresses to cirrhosis, symptoms may include:

  • Mental confusion
  • Internal bleeding
  • Fluid retention
  • Loss of healthy liver function


NAFLD (fatty liver) develops when your body produces too much fat or doesn’t metabolize fat efficiently enough. The excess fat is stored in liver cells, where it builds up and causes fatty liver disease.

This build-up of fat can be caused by a variety of things.

Drinking too much alcohol, for instance, can cause fatty liver disease in the alcohol. That is the first stage of liver disease related to alcohol.

The cause of fatty liver disease is less obvious in people who don’t drink much alcohol.

One or more of the following factors may play a role:

  • Obesity
  • High blood sugar
  • Insulin resistance
  • High levels of fat, especially triglycerides, in your blood

Less common causes include:

  • Pregnancy
  • Rapid weight loss
  • Some types of infections, such as hepatitis c
  • Side effects of other pharmaceutical drugs, like as methotrexate (trexall), tamoxifen (Nolvadex), amiodorone (Pacerone), and valproic acid (Depakote)
  • Exposure to certain toxins

Some genes can also increase the risk of fatty liver growth.

Risk factors for NAFD

A risk factor makes a person more likely to have a condition or disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has multiple risk factors including:

  • Being obese or overweight
  • Having type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
  • Developing metabolic syndrome (excess body weight, resistance to insulin, high blood pressure and elevated triglyceride)

Some genetic metabolic conditions or prescription medications, including amiodarone, diltiazem , steroids, and tamoxifen also may increase the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. When you are taking one of these drugs and have a fatty liver condition, the doctor may be adding another drug.


The main risk of NAFLD is cirrhosis, which can limit your liver’s ability to do its job. Your liver has several important functions, including:

  • Producing bile, which helps break down fats and remove waste from the body
  • Metabolizing medication and toxins
  • Balancing fluid levels in the body through protein production
  • Processing hemoglobin and storing iron
  • Converting ammonia in your blood to harmless urea for excretion
  • Storing and releasing glucose (sugar) as needed for energy
  • Producing cholesterol, which is necessary for cellular health
  • Removing bacteria from blood
  • Producing immune factors to fight infections
  • Regulating blood clotting

Cirrhosis can sometimes progress to liver cancer or liver failure. In some cases, liver failure can be treated with medications, but usually a liver transplant is needed.

Mild cases of NAFLD may not lead to serious liver problems or other complications. Early diagnosis and lifestyle changes are vital for the preservation of liver health in mild cases.


To reduce your risk of NAFLD:

  • Choose a healthy diet. Select a healthy diet focused on plants which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight or obese, decrease the amount of calories you eat every day and get more exercise. When you have a healthy weight, deal on eating a balanced diet and exercising to preserve it.
  • Exercise. Exercise most days of the week. Get an OK from your doctor first if you haven’t been exercising regularly.

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