Excess fat can deposit and accumulate in the liver, causing inflammation
(hepatitis), damage, and eventually cirrhosis.
This is called fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease can occur in people who consume large amounts of
alcohol (called alcoholic hepatitis, a form of alcoholic
liver disease) or in people who are overweight or obese and consume
little to no alcohol. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) that is
associated with inflammation and liver damage is called nonalcoholic
steatohepatitis, or NASH. NAFLD and NASH are a growing problem,
possibly due to the rising rate of obesity. NASH is strongly associated
with obesity, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and metabolic syndrome.
People with NAFLD have no symptoms. In people with NASH, the disease can
remain silent for many years, causing symptoms only when advanced liver
damage or cirrhosis occurs.
The first clue that NASH may be present often is an abnormal result on
routine liver function tests. The diagnosis is further suspected if no
other cause of liver disease (viral infection, alcohol abuse, autoimmune
disease, drug toxicity) is found and imaging studies show fat deposits
in the liver. A liver biopsy can definitively diagnose NASH but is not
Currently, there are no proven treatments for NAFLD or NASH, but a
variety of therapies are being investigated. It is recommended that
patients with NAFLD or NASH:
Achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Many
people with NAFLD or NASH are overweight or obese. Weight loss
has been shown to improve liver function tests and many help
slow or reverse the disease process.
Manage other health problems. Diabetes, high
blood pressure, and high cholesterol levels also are common in
people with NAFLD or NASH and should be brought under control.
Eat well and exercise. A balanced,
nutrient-dense diet and regular physical activity help to
control weight, blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol
Avoid heavy drinking. Excessive alcohol
consumption places patients at risk for further liver injury.
Patients with NASH who go on to develop cirrhosis receive care focused
on preventing and managing complications of cirrhosis,
including screening for esophageal varices and liver cancer.
For more information, call 1.866.CALL.MLH.