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clinical background

Gut Reaction #32: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

A healthy liver should contain little to no fat. Having high levels of fat in the liver is associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, from diabetes and high blood pressure to kidney disease. This month’s blog will discuss non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the term used for excess fat build-up in the liver. As highlighted in the name, this condition isn’t caused by drinking too much alcohol.

It’s important to detect and manage this condition as early as possible – Stage 1 NAFLD doesn’t usually cause any serious harm but if it the fat build-up continues, it can lead to serious liver damage including cirrhosis.

There are 4 stages of NAFLD:

  • simple fatty liver (hepatic steatosis) – most common stage that may affect 1 in 3 adults in the UK
  • non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – a more serious form where the liver has become inflamed, estimated to effect up to 5% of the UK adult population
  • fibrosis –where persistent inflammation causes scarring, but the liver is still able to function normally
  • cirrhosis – the most severe stage which occurs after many years of inflammation. The damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer

Individuals are at an increased risk of developing NAFLD if they:

  • are obese or overweight
  • have type-2 diabetes
  • have high blood pressure & cholesterol
  • are over the age of 50
  • smoke cigarettes

There aren’t usually any symptoms of the condition in the early stages – it is usually diagnosed following an abnormal result from a liver function test (raised GGT and/or ALT; high ferritin) or after an ultrasound scan. Occasionally, a liver Fibroscan or even a biopsy may be required to establish the stage of the disease.

How is NAFLD treated? While there’s currently no specific medication for the condition, the best management is to lose weight, eat a healthy balanced diet & exercise regularly.

If you have any questions about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Harris.