March 01, 2012

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

A growing health concern

Normal liver and Fatty liver

You've always limited your alcohol consumption to an occasional glass of wine or cocktail. But after a routine blood test at your last checkup showed elevated levels of certain liver enzymes, your doctor is concerned that you may have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

NAFLD — a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol — has become one of the most common liver diseases in the U.S. Currently, it's estimated that the disorder affects up to 20 percent of American adults. Researchers believe this is associated with rising rates of obesity.

A buildup of fat

Still, NAFLD often goes unnoticed because it usually causes no signs or symptoms. In its simplest form, it also tends to be free of complications. However, a buildup of fat in the liver can result in inflammation and scarring (fibrosis). This more serious form of NAFLD — called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH — can cause severe liver damage and eventually lead to liver failure or liver cancer in a small percentage of people.

Your liver performs many tasks, including processing what you eat and drink into energy and nutrients and filtering harmful substances from your blood.

With NAFLD, fat builds up in liver tissue. Some people may experience fatigue, weight loss and pain in the upper right abdomen. However, these warning signs are rare, especially in the early stages.

Fat in the liver sometimes causes inflammation. This can cause scars to develop....