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Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Dec 2, 2022.

What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a buildup of fat in your liver from a condition other than alcohol abuse. NAFLD usually does not cause symptoms. You may have pain in the upper right side of your abdomen or feel tired.

Stages of Liver Damage

What increases my risk for NAFLD?

  • Health conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, or hepatitis
  • Certain medicines, such as chemotherapy, antibiotics, and heart medicines
  • Exposure to chemicals that are toxic to the liver, such as pesticides, toluene, or vinyl chloride
  • IV nutrition with total parenteral nutrition (TPN) for longer than 6 weeks

How is NAFLD diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your medical conditions. He or she may ask about your past and current medicines. He or she will also check for other conditions that may be causing your symptoms. You may need any of the following:

  • Blood tests will show how well your liver is working. They may also be used to get information about your overall health and find the cause of your NAFLD.
  • An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show if you have increased fat in your liver.
  • A CT or MRI scan may be used to take pictures of your liver. You may be given contrast liquid to help healthcare providers see your liver better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • A liver biopsy is a procedure to remove a small piece of your liver to be tested.

How is NAFLD treated?

Medicine is usually not used to treat NAFLD. Medicine may be used to treat other health conditions and manage blood sugar or cholesterol levels. Your medicine may be changed if it is causing your NAFLD.

How can I manage NAFLD?

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Ask your healthcare provider what a healthy weight is for you. Ask him or her to help you create a weight loss plan if you are overweight.
  • Exercise as directed. Aerobic exercise 3 times a week for 20 to 45 minutes can help decrease fat buildup in your liver. Examples are cycling, brisk walking, or jogging. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
    Black Family Walking for Exercise
  • Eat a variety of healthy foods. Healthy foods include vegetables, fruit, whole-grain breads, low-fat dairy products, beans, lean meats, and fish. Foods low in simple carbohydrates, low in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and low in trans fat may help decrease fat buildup in your liver.
    Healthy Foods
  • Do not drink alcohol. Alcohol may make NAFLD worse and harm your liver. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you need help to quit drinking.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have shortness of breath.
  • You have trouble thinking clearly or are confused.
  • You feel lightheaded or faint.
  • You have shaking, chills, and a fever.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have more pain or swelling in your abdomen.
  • You feel more tired than usual.
  • You bruise or bleed easily.
  • Your skin or the whites of your eyes look yellow.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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