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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, and Cost

Last Updated: Feb 25, 2024

What is Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFLD) is a common liver disease where extra fat builds up in the liver, resulting in inflammation and perhaps liver damage. It affects people who drink little to no alcohol and can range from a simple buildup of fat to a more severe form called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH).

NAFLD is often linked to obesity, insulin resistance, and type-2 diabetes, and is becoming more prevalent in the population due to the growing obesity epidemic.

Types of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver

The two main forms of NAFLD are NASH and plain fatty liver.

Simple fatty liver is a mild form of the condition in which there is a buildup of fat in the liver, but no signs of liver damage or inflammation.

NASH, on the other hand, is a more severe form of NAFLD in which there is not only fat accumulation in the liver but also liver inflammation and the potential for liver damage.

What causes Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

The exact cause of NAFLD is not fully understood, but it is thought to be linked to other medical conditions such as;

  • Obesity
  • Insulin resistance
  • Type-2 diabetes.

Other factors that may contribute to the development of NAFLD include;

  • A high-fat diet
  • Physical inactivity
  • Certain medications

What are the symptoms of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

Many people with NAFLD do not experience any symptoms, and the condition is often found incidentally during routine blood tests or imaging studies. In some cases, people with NAFLD may experience;

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What are the Risk Factors of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

There are several factors that increase the risk of developing Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). Some of these risk factors include;

  • Obesity: Excess body weight, particularly around the waist, is a major risk factor for NAFLD
  • Insulin resistance: People with insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndrome have a higher risk of developing NAFLD
  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, increases the risk of NAFLD
  • High cholesterol: Elevated levels of cholesterol in the blood increase the risk of NAFLD
  • Family history: NAFLD is often seen in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic component to the disease
  • Ethnicity: People of certain ethnicities, such as Hispanic or Native American, have a higher risk of developing NAFLD
  • Gender: Men are more likely to develop NAFLD than women
  • Age: The risk of NAFLD increases with age

By recognizing these risk factors, individuals can take steps to reduce their risk of developing NAFLD, such as maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine and managing any underlying health conditions.

How can you prevent Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

Maintaining a healthy weight through a balanced diet and regular exercise is the best method to prevent NAFLD. It is also important to manage other medical conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes, as they can increase the risk of developing NAFLD.

Do

  • Maintain a healthy weight through diet and exercise
  • Manage other medical conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes
  • Avoid a high-fat diet
  • Be physically active

Don’t

  • Consume a high-fat diet
  • Be physically inactive
  • Ignore other medical conditions such as obesity, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver - Diagnosis and Tests

NAFLD is often diagnosed during routine blood tests or imaging studies. If NAFLD is suspected, further testing may be necessary to confirm the diagnosis, including; Liver function tests

  • Liver function tests are a group of blood tests that help assess how well the liver is functioning. For people with suspected nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), liver function tests are commonly used to evaluate liver health.
  • The tests measure levels of enzymes and proteins produced by the liver, such as alanine transaminase (ALT) and aspartate transaminase (AST). Elevated levels of these enzymes can indicate liver damage or disease.
  • Liver function tests can also measure levels of bilirubin, which can indicate problems with the liver's ability to process and eliminate waste.Imaging studies
  • Imaging studies, such as ultrasound, computed tomography (CT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), can help diagnose NAFLD and evaluate the extent of liver damage.
  • Ultrasound is the most commonly used imaging test for NAFLD, as it is non-invasive and provides a clear image of the liver and surrounding organs.
  • CT and MRI scans can provide more detailed images of the liver, but they expose the patient to radiation and are more expensive than ultrasound.Liver biopsy
  • A liver biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of liver tissue is removed and examined under a microscope. This test is usually reserved for cases where the diagnosis of NAFLD is uncertain, or for patients with suspected nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more severe form of NAFLD.
  • During the biopsy, a needle is inserted through the skin and into the liver, and a small piece of tissue is removed for analysis.
  • Liver biopsy is the most accurate way to diagnose NAFLD, but it is also the most invasive and carries some risks, such as bleeding and infection.

What are possible complications of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

If nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is not treated, it might progress to more severe problems. Some of the possible complications include;

These illnesses might be fatal, so you should get help right away. Liver transplantation can be required in extreme situations. In order to prevent these serious complications, it is essential to detect and treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as soon as feasible.

Home Remedies for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

There are some home remedies that can help in reducing the symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and improving liver function. These remedies include;

  • Consuming a healthy diet that is low in fat, sugar, and salt
  • Drinking plenty of water
  • Exercising regularly
  • Reducing stress
  • Avoiding alcohol
  • Smoking

Some herbs can also be beneficial for the liver and can help in reducing inflammation;

  • Milk thistle
  • Dandelion root
  • Turmeric

Before using any home remedies, it is crucial to speak with a doctor because some of them may interact negatively with prescription drugs or have other unfavorable effects.

What to eat in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

A healthy diet is crucial for managing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Foods that are low in fat, sugar, and salt and rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals should be included in the diet.

Some of the foods that are recommended for people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include;

  • Fruits
  • Vegetables
  • Whole grains
  • Lean proteins
  • Healthy fats
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Avocados

Additionally, drinking plenty of water and avoiding sugary drinks and alcohol can also help in managing the condition.

What not to eat in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

If you have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, you should stay away from a few food items. These foods include foods that are high in sugar, saturated fat, and trans fat.

Some examples of such foods include;

  • Fried foods
  • Processed snacks
  • Sugary drinks
  • Baked goods

Additionally, alcohol should also be avoided, as it can increase liver inflammation and damage. It is important to have a balanced and nutritious diet and to avoid consuming foods that can harm the liver.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Treatments

There is no cure for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, but the condition can be managed with the right treatment. The goal of treatment is to reduce liver inflammation and prevent the progression of the disease to more serious conditions.

Which doctor to consult for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

It's crucial to see a doctor if you're experiencing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease symptoms or are at risk of getting the condition. The disease can be identified and the best course of treatment can be suggested by a general practitioner or a gastroenterologist.

Which are the best medicines for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

There is no specific medication for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, but some medications can help in reducing liver inflammation and improving liver function. The following are some of the drugs that are frequently prescribed for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:

However, these drugs should only be taken under the guidance of a specialist.

How long does it take to recover from Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver?

The time it takes to recover from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease varies from person to person and depends on several factors such as the severity of the condition, the underlying cause, and the effectiveness of the treatment.

In some cases, liver function can be improved with lifestyle changes and medication, and the condition may not progress to more serious conditions. However, in severe cases, it may take several years to recover, and liver transplantation may be necessary.

Are the results of the treatment permanent?

The results of treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are not permanent, and the condition can recur if lifestyle changes are not maintained. To prevent the recurrence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it is important to follow a healthy diet, exercise regularly, avoid alcohol and smoking, and maintain a healthy weight. Regular doctor visits might also aid in keeping an eye on the disease and averting problems.

Who is eligible for the treatment?

Anyone who has symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or is at risk of developing the condition is eligible for treatment. Early detection and intervention can lessen the severity of the problem and help to avoid consequences.

Who is not eligible for the treatment?

People who have liver cirrhosis or liver failure are not eligible for treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Liver transplantation might be required in certain circumstances.

What are the post-treatment guidelines?

After treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it is important to follow certain guidelines to prevent the recurrence of the condition and maintain good liver health. These guidelines include;

  • Following a healthy diet
  • Exercising regularly
  • Avoiding alcohol and smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Regular doctor visits might also aid in keeping an eye on the disease and averting problems

What is the price of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver treatments in India?

Depending on the type of treatment and the hospital's location, the cost of treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in India might vary significantly. For instance, liver transplantation can cost between 15-20 lakhs.

Other treatments, such as lifestyle changes and medication, may be relatively inexpensive. It's important to consult a doctor to get a precise estimate of the cost of treatment before starting any treatment.

What are side-effects of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver treatments?

The side-effects of treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can vary depending on the type of treatment. Some of the common side-effects of medication for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include;

  • Nausea
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain

In some cases, the symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be severe and even life-threatening. For this reason, it is essential to seek medical attention as soon as possible to minimize the risk of complications and to ensure that you receive prompt and effective treatment.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver - Outlook / Prognosis

With the right medical care and dietary adjustments, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be effectively treated. In its early stages, the disease can often be reversed, and symptoms can be managed to prevent progression to more severe forms of liver disease.

NAFLD, however, can develop into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can result in cirrhosis and liver failure, if left untreated. NAFLD must be treated as soon as possible to save the liver from suffering additional harm.

References

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Written ByDr. Rlv Phani Kumar Diploma in Diabetes,MD,MBBSInternal Medicine
Reviewed By
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Reviewed ByDr. Bhupindera Jaswant SinghMD - Consultant PhysicianGeneral Physician
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