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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

  • Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
Publication Type:


Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

(NAFLD, Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis [NASH])


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a buildup of fat in the liver that is not caused by drinking alcohol.

If it gets worse, NAFLD can lead to liver damage and other health problems.

The Liver.

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NAFLD happens when the liver cannot break down fats. Instead, fats build up in liver tissue. Many health problems can make it hard for the liver to break down fats.

Risk Factors

Things that may raise the risk of NAFLD are:

  • Obesity
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High triglyceride levels
  • A large waistline
  • Severe weight loss
  • Some medicines
  • Exposure to certain chemicals


Most people with NAFLD do not have symptoms. Those who do may have:

  • Tiredness
  • Pain in the upper right side of the belly
  • Muscle weakness
  • Yellowing of the skin and the white part of the eyes


The doctor will ask about symptoms and past health. A physical exam will be done.

Diagnosis is based on blood tests and ruling out other liver problems. Blood tests look for raised liver enzymes.

Images may be taken to look at the liver. This can be done with:

A small sample of the liver may be tested. This can be done with a liver biopsy .


The cause of NAFLD will need to be treated. Options may be:

  • Working with a dietitian to eat a healthful diet to lose weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Medicine to treat the cause of NAFLD

People with severe symptoms may need bariatric surgery.


Diet changes and exercise can reduce obesity. Reducing obesity can lower the risk of NAFLD.





  • Neuschwander-Tetri BA. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. BMC Med. 2017;15(1):45.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld.
  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. American Liver Foundation website. Available at: https://liverfoundation.org/liver-diseases/fatty-liver-disease/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases website. Available at: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash.


  • Daniel A. Ostrovsky, MD
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.