602865 Health Library | Health and Wellness | Wellmont Health System
  • Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

    (NAFLD, Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis [NASH])


    Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease involves the build-up of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. It is a common condition. Fatty liver disease may not cause any problems if it is mild. In some cases, it can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. If this is severe, it can cause liver failure.
    The Liver
    Nucleus factsheet image
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.


    When the liver is unable to break down fats, they build up in liver tissue. Many conditions and diseases make it difficult for the liver to break down fats.

    Risk Factors

    These factors increase your chance of developing fatty liver disease:
    • Being overweight or obese
    • Age (risk increases with age)
    • Gender (affects males more than females)
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • High cholesterol
    • Severe weight loss
    • Medicines (eg, steroids)
    • Exposure to certain chemicals (eg, pesticides)
    Tell your doctor if you have any of these.


    This disease often causes no symptoms. If fatty build-up is causing the liver not to function well, you may have symptoms. If you have any of these symptoms, do not assume it is due to fatty liver disease. These may be caused by other conditions. Tell your doctor if you have any of these:
    • Fatigue
    • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
    • Muscle weakness
    • Jaundice
    • Skin itching (pruritus)
    • Lack of appetite
    • Weight loss
    • Nausea


    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done.
    Tests may include the following:
    • Blood tests—to look for raised liver enzymes
    • Ultrasound—a test that uses sound waves to examine the liver
    • CT scan —a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the abdomen
    • Liver biopsy —a small piece of your liver is removed and examined


    Treatment focuses on the factors that are causing fatty liver disease. Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment may focus on avoiding certain medicines, chemicals, or lifestyle factors that can damage your liver.

    Weight Loss

    If you are overweight, your doctor may recommend weight loss through:
    • Diet
    • Exercise
    • Behavioral therapy
    • Medicines
    • Bariatric surgery (in serious cases)


    Your doctor may prescribe medicines to lower your cholesterol or improve your blood sugar control. If you have diabetes, your doctor will help you keep your blood sugar levels in a healthy range.


    To help reduce your chance of getting fatty liver disease, take the following steps:
      Maintain a healthy weight.
      • Follow a low-fat, low-calorie diet to promote weight loss.
      • Eat a diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and unsaturated fats.
      Increase your daily activity levels. For instance:
      • Get 30 minutes of daily exercise.
      • Walk up the stairs instead of riding the elevator.
      • Walk rather than drive for short trips.
    • If you have diabetes or high cholesterol, follow your doctor’s guidelines.


    American Gastroenterological Association http://www.gastro.org/

    American Liver Foundation http://www.liverfoundation.org/


    The Canadian Association of Gastroenterology http://www.cag-acg.org/

    Canadian Liver Foundation http://www.liver.ca/


    Bayard M, Holt J, Boroughs E. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Am Fam Physician . 2006;73(11):1961-1968.

    DynaMed Editors. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated May 14, 2010. Accessed June 9, 2010.

    Mayo Clinic. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/print/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/DS00577/DSECTION=all&METHOD=print . Updated February 19, 2009. Accessed 7 June, 2010.

    Revision Information

  • Join WellZones today.

    Make a Change For LifeLearn more

    Wellmont LiveWell is creating a new tradition of wellness in the mountains by providing individuals with tools and encouragement to live healthier lifestyles.

  • HeartSHAPE Spotlight

    At risk for a heart attack? Learn more

    Fight heart disease early and prevent heart attacks with HeartSHAPE® - a painless, non-invasive test that takes pictures of your heart to scan for early-stage coronary disease.

  • Calories and Energy Needs

    Calorie NeedsLearn more

    How many calories do you need to eat each day to maintain your weight and fuel your physical activity? Enter a few of your stats into this calculator to find out.

  • Ideal Body Weight

    Ideal Body WeightLearn more

    Using body mass index as a reference, this calculator determines your ideal body weight range. All you need to do is enter your height.

  • Body Mass Index

    Body Mass IndexLearn more

    This tool considers your height and weight to assess your weight status.

  • Can we help answer your questions?

    Wellmont Nurse Connection is your resource for valuable health information any time, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Speak to a Nurse any time, day or night, at (423) 723-6877 or toll-free at 1-877-230-NURSE.