You have probably never or infrequently heard of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), but it is a condition that strikes without warning and without obvious symptoms and can have very serious health consequences.
The condition affects about 100 million Americans, and causes a lot of fat to be stored in the livers of people who drink very little alcohol, or even no alcohol at all.
Risk Factors and Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
“Although it is difficult to establish the exact causes of NAFLD, knowing your risk becomes vital,” says Dr. Rashid Khan, a gastroenterologist at Houston Methodist Hospital, “The condition can be diagnosed in people of all ages, but is prevalent in those in their 40s or 50s who are also at elevated risk for heart disease due to the presence of risk factors, such as obesity or type 2 diabetes.”
The condition is also associated with metabolic syndrome, which is a compilation of abnormalities that include:
Increased belly fat
Low ability to use the hormone insulin
High blood pressure
Other symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include:
Right-sided abdominal pain
Why take non-alcoholic fatty liver disease seriously?
If you have one or more of these 3 risk factors, then you have 5 reasons to take NAFLD very seriously:
NASH can develop into liver cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis means irreversible damage to the liver, and over time leads to very severe liver dysfunction.
“Fatty liver is relatively simple to treat, however, it is when cirrhosis develops that the prognosis changes dramatically,” says Dr. Khan.
Studies indicate that liver cancer can occur in people with NASH, even in the absence of cirrhosis.
Approximately 25% of the time, NASH develops into nonalcoholic hepatic steatosis, which in turn can lead to liver cancer.
Heart disease goes hand in hand with NASH.
“Heart disease and NASH coexist in many patients,” comments Dr. Khan. “In fact, fatty liver is known to be an independent predictor of heart disease.”
Studies show that people with diabetes eventually develop NASH.
“This association is bidirectional because some patients who have fatty liver also develop diabetes,” notes Dr. Khan.
NAFLD linked to chronic kidney disease
NAFLD is linked to chronic kidney disease. And although its association is not as strong as with heart disease or diabetes, the risk is prevalent. NASH is linked to Metabolic Syndrome, which involves plaque buildup in blood vessels throughout the body.
How to decrease the risk of developing NAFLD