Non-alcoholic fatty liver can be prevented from getting worse with lifestyle changes. But for some, the condition can lead to life-threatening liver problems.
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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, commonly referred to as NAFLD, refers to a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver (more than 5 per cent), that are not due to alcohol consumption.
How is fatty liver created?
The liver stores excess calories as fat for future use, such as in times of starvation.But when there is no opportunity for this extra energy to be used up (because of excessive eating), the fat is accumulated.
Overweight people who have metabolic syndrome – a combination of several diseases such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and high cholesterol – and don’t metabolise their fat properly also tend to accumulate fat in their liver.
When does it become harmful?
The early stages of fat accumulation in the liver, or steatosis, are relatively harmless, but 40-60 per cent of patients could see their condition advance to the more serious non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), in which the liver becomes inflamed and scarred.
Of this group, 10-25 per cent could eventually have
cirrhosis, in which the liver becomes severely scarred and hardened. The
damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure and cancer.
Symptoms appear later
Fatty liver has few symptoms until the advanced stages, when cirrhosis has occurred, and is mostly discovered through an abnormal blood test result or an abnormal ultrasound scan finding.
signs of the disease are present, they are
usually general and vague, like tiredness, nausea, and discomfort over the right upper abdomen.
Increasingly, NAFLD is being found to affect people who are not overweight or obese.