Non-drinkers may develop liver disease similar to that of alcoholic drinkers

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a form of liver disease that is not caused by alcoholic drinking but mimics or behaves like liver disease caused by drinking alcohol excessively. NAFLD is often referred to as silent liver disease because this form does not often cause symptoms. People may live for many years without knowing they have it. If the disease progresses and causes liver damage, however, it may become another form of liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

A healthy liver helps with digestion and ensures toxins and waste products are removed from the body. A liver with too much fat in it is unable to do its job well, which can then impact other organs and cause certain symptoms, such as:

  • Fatigue and exhaustion
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes or skin)
  • “Spider” vessels (strings of veins visible on the surface of skin)
  • Unexplained itching
  • Weakness

NAFLD is most often seen in people who are obese. People with this condition often have high cholesterol levels (fat in the blood) and are more prone to the disease. People with diabetes and high blood pressure are also more at risk. There is also some evidence that NAFLD is hereditary (runs in families).

To diagnose your condition, your doctor will assess your symptoms, perform a physical exam, and review your medical history. Certain imaging tests to look for fat in the liver may be recommended, such as ultrasound, CT scan or MRI. Liver biopsy, however, is the only way to determine for sure whether you have NAFLD.

Treatment options depend on the severity of liver damage but NAFLD can often be treated with medication to relieve your symptoms along with diet and lifestyle changes to reduce the amount of fat in the liver.

To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.