Symptoms & Treatment for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Serious problems can arise when fat accumulates in the liver. When this occurs without heavy alcohol consumption, it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
What are the consequences of NAFLD?
Over time, NAFLD can go from fat accumulation to cirrhosis. In its beginning stages, fatty build up causes inflammation of the liver, which eventually leads to non-alcoholic steatohepatits (NASH). Next, the liver becomes scarred, known as fibrosis. Once fibrosis has occurred, cirrhosis can develop, which is the final stage of liver disease. This can cause multiple life-threatening problems, including gastrointestinal bleeding, fluid buildup, and liver cancer.
Who is at risk for NAFLD?
Patients who have any of the following conditions are at a higher risk of developing NAFLD:
- Metabolic syndrome (a combination of two or more of the below conditions)
- Type 2 diabetes
There is also evidence that suggests the below factors may contribute to the development of NAFLD (even when obesity is not present):
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Obstructive sleep apnea
- Pancreato-duodenal resection
How is NALFD diagnosed?
NAFLD is often diagnosed using imaging testing, which can show evidence of the health problem. One or more of the following tests may be used to help diagnose NAFLD:
- CT scan
However, diagnostic testing alone usually is not be enough to make a diagnosis of NAFLD. Physicians regularly perform other lab tests to exclude other possible causes for your symptoms. A liver biopsy is often used when other causes for liver disease cannot be excluded. Liver biopsies can also help your doctor to detect fibrosis.
How is NAFLD treated?
The best treatment option to manage NAFLD is weight control and weight loss. Often, liver disease can be halted when a patient maintains a healthy weight using diet and exercise recommended by a doctor.
Additionally, there are several medications that may be used to help manage the condition, but have not been proven to be fully effective. Patients are advised not to begin taking any kind of medicine or herbal remedy without specific consent from your doctor.
Unfortunately, once liver disease has progressed to cirrhosis, the only cure is to transplant the liver. It is very important for patients with cirrhosis to consistently visit a gastroenterologist, even when they are not considering transplantation. For patients who are considering liver transplantation, it is equally important to speak with a liver specialist to address potential risks of NAFLD recurring after the transplant.