Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a condition that causes an accumulation of fat cells on the livers of people who do not consume large amounts of alcohol. It is becoming increasingly common worldwide, particularly in Western countries. In the United States alone, NAFLD affects up to one hundred million people each year, making it the most common type of liver disease in the nation.
The exact cause of NAFLD is not currently known. However, certain risk factors have been identified, including gastric bypass surgery, obesity, type 2 diabetes, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, high cholesterol, and underactive thyroid or pituitary gland. In some cases, though, patients with no clear risk factors have also developed NAFLD. The condition appears most frequently in older adults who are already determined to be at high risk for heart disease due to diabetes and obesity.
Most people with NAFLD will not experience any indicators of the disease. On the occasions when symptoms do arise, patients usually report pain, abdominal swelling, enlarged blood vessels, enlarged spleen, fatigue, red palms, jaundice, and weight loss. Children might complain about abdominal pain and perhaps fatigue, although these are not specific to NAFLD. In time, the condition can become serious and lead to inflammation of the liver or cirrhosis. If left unchecked, cirrhosis can lead to complications like abdominal fluid buildup, liver cancer, and even end-stage liver failure.
There is no standard treatment for NAFLD. Rather, doctors will treat the condition that is determined to be the underlying cause. Consequently, treatments will vary widely. Obese patients may benefit from increased physical exercise, dietary changes to reduce carbohydrate and fat intake, and weight loss. Diabetics will likely be prescribed anti-diabetic drugs. In other cases, medical professionals will recommend the use of dietary supplements and vitamins.