Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term referring to a range of liver conditions affecting individuals who drink little to no alcohol.
NAFLD refers to an excess of fat stored in liver cells. Experts aren’t sure exactly why some people accumulate too much fat in the liver while others don’t, but NAFLD is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, high triglycerides and high cholesterol — among a myriad of other diseases and conditions. However, some people will develop NAFLD even if they don’t have any risk factors.
In the United States, NAFLD affects about one-quarter of the population, making it the most common form of chronic liver disease in the nation. This translates to an estimated 100 million U.S. individuals with NAFLD.
Though NAFLD often has no symptoms, when symptoms occur, they may include:
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Spider-like blood vessels
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
- Fluid build-up and swelling of the legs (edema) and abdomen (ascites)
- Mental confusion
It’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you suspect you may have NAFLD. As the condition progresses, the liver may begin to swell and scar (cirrhosis), leading to possible liver cancer or liver failure. While NAFLD has no treatment, there are ways to interrupt the process of cirrhosis and slow its progression.
According to the Liver Foundation, there are some ways to prevent the onset of NAFLD before it begins wreaking havoc. These include maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and only taking medications that you need along with following the dosing recommendations.
If you suspect you have NAFLD, don’t panic. While no cures currently exist, treatment of underlying conditions contributing to fatty liver can allow people with the condition to lead full and productive lives.