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Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): Symptoms, Causes & Forms

  • Published: 2015-12-24 : Thomas C. Weiss (Disabled World).
  • Synopsis: Information regarding Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a term used to describe the accumulation of fat in the liver

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Quote: "The wide range of diseases and conditions linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is so diverse it is hard to pinpoint any one, single cause."

Non-Alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a term used to describe the accumulation of fat in a person's liver. The disease affects people who drink little or no alcohol. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is common and for the majority of people, does not cause any signs or symptoms, as well as no complications. Yet in some people with NAFLD, the fat accumulation may cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. The more serious form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is at times referred to as, 'non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.' When the disease is at its most severe, NAFLD may progress to liver failure.

NAFLD Symptoms, Causes and Forms

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) usually does not cause a person to experience any signs or symptoms. When the disease does cause symptoms in an affected person, it causes just a few. These signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the upper right abdomen

NAFLD happens when a person's liver has difficulties with breaking down fats, causing fat to build up in the affected person's liver tissue. Doctors are not sure what causes NAFLD. The wide range of diseases and conditions linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is so diverse it is hard to pinpoint any one, single cause. What is known is there are some different types of NAFLD. The disease may take a number of forms ranging from harmless to life-threatening. The forms of NAFLD include:

Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis: In a small number of people with fatty liver, the fat causes inflammation which may impair the liver's ability to function and lead to scarring of the liver or, 'cirrhosis.'

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Associated Cirrhosis: Liver inflammation leads to scarring of the liver tissue. Over a period of time, scarring might become so severe the person's liver does not function as it should or, 'liver failure.'

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver: It is not usual for fat to build up in a person's liver, although it will not necessarily harm you. In its simplest form NAFLD may cause excessive liver fat, yet with no complications. The condition is thought to be very common.

NAFLD Risk factors

A wide range of diseases and conditions can increase a person's risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Among these diseases and conditions are the following:

  • Obesity
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)

NAFLD Tests and Diagnosis

Some different tests and procedures are used to achieve a diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The tests and procedures include the following:

Blood Tests: Liver function tests, to include tests of liver enzymes, might help a doctor to make a diagnosis.

Imaging Procedures: Imaging procedures used to diagnose fatty liver disease include computerized tomography (CT) scan, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Liver Tissue Testing: If it is suspected that a person has a more serious form of NAFLD, a doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from your liver or, 'liver biopsy.' The tissue sample is examined in a laboratory for signs of inflammation and scarring. A liver biopsy is usually performed using a long needle inserted through a person's skin and into their liver in order to remove liver cells.

NAFLD Treatments and Drugs

There is no standard treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Instead, doctors usually work to treat the risk factors that contribute to your liver disease. For example; if you are obese, a doctor might help you to lose weight through exercise, diet and in some instances - medications and surgical intervention. A doctor might recommend that you receive vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to help protect you from viruses which may cause additional liver damage.

Lifestyle and Home Remedies for NAFLD

In addition to your doctor's assistance, you can take steps to control NAFLD. Steps you can take include the following:

Lose Weight: If you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you consume every day and increase your physical activity with the goal of losing weight. If you have tried to lose weight in the past and have been unsuccessful, ask a doctor for help.

Choose a Healthy Diet: Eat a healthy diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

Lower Your Cholesterol: A healthy, plant-based diet - as well as medications and exercise can help you to keep your cholesterol and triglycerides at healthy levels.

Control Your Diabetes: Follow your doctor's instructions to remain in control of your diabetes. Take your medications as they have been prescribed and closely monitor you blood sugar.

Protect Your Liver: Avoid things that will place additional stress on your liver. For example; do not consume alcohol. Follow the instructions on all of your medications and over-the-counter drugs.

Exercise and be More Active: Aim for at least a half-hour of exercise most days of the week. If you are attempting to lose weight, you may find that more exercise is helpful. Yet if you do not already exercise on a regular basis, get a doctor's approval first and begin slowly.

NAFLD and Alternative Medicine

There are no alternative medicine treatments that have been proven to cure NAFLD. Researchers; however, are studying whether some natural compounds might be helpful. These natural compounds include the following:

Vitamin E: In theory at least, vitamin E and other vitamins called, 'antioxidants,' could help to protect your liver by reducing or neutralizing the damage caused by inflammation. More research is needed, although some evidence suggests vitamin E supplements might be helpful for people with liver damage caused by NAFLD. Vitamin E; believe it or not, does have some side-effects such as an increased risk of death and - in men, an increased risk of prostate cancer. It is important to discuss the benefits and the risks of vitamin E with a doctor.

Coffee Consumption: In one study, people with NAFLD who reported drinking coffee had less liver damage than people who drank little or no coffee at all. It is not clear how coffee might influence liver damage, or how much coffee a person would need to consume in order to receive benefits. If you already drink coffee, these results might make you feel better about your morning cup of coffee. However, if you do not already drink coffee - this most likely is not a good reason to begin. Discuss the possible benefits of coffee with a doctor.

Preventing NAFLD

To reduce your risk for NAFLD, choose a healthy diet. Choose a healthy, plant-based diet that is rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and healthy fats. Maintain a healthy weight; if you are obese or overweight, cut the number of calories you eat every day and pursue more exercise. If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain your weight by choosing a healthy diet and exercising. Exercise most days of the week, but get approval from a doctor first if you have not been exercising on a regular basis.

Related Information:

  1. For Protection Against liver Disease Some Omega-3 Oils Better than Others - Linus Pauling Institute
  2. Aerobic Exercise Reduces Fatty Liver Health Concerns - Wiley-Blackwell
  3. Fatty Liver Disease in Children and Teens - Indiana University School of Medicine

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