Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Fatty liver

NAFLD is a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver, mostly in people who are overweight or obese


Fatty liver is a condition where you have too much fat in your liver. There should be little or no fat in a healthy liver. Fatty liver that isn't caused by alcohol is called non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which can lead to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and, at advanced stages of liver damage, liver failure or liver cancer.

Need to know

  • Symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease icon plus

    The early stages of NAFLD are difficult to detect and are usually discovered when you're being tested for another reason. More advanced stages of NAFLD (e.g. NASH or fibrosis) have symptoms that include:

    • a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy
    • fatigue
    • unexplained weight loss
    • weakness

    If cirrhosis, the most advanced stage of NAFLD, develops, you can get more severe symptoms such as:

    • swelling of the legs, ankles and feet (oedema)
    • swelling of the abdomen (ascites)
    • extreme fatigue (anaemia)
    • very rapid heartbeat (tachycardia)
    • vomiting blood (haematemesis)
    • dark black, tarry faeces (melena)
    • periods of confusion (encephalopathy)
    • jaundice
  • Diagnosis icon plus

    If you are suspected of having NAFLD, your consultant may ask questions about your lifestyle, such as any medication or supplements you're taking, your diet, if you exercise and the amount of alcohol you drink. They may also recommend tests to confirm a NAFLD diagnosis, such as:

    • Liver function tests (LFT) which measure various enzymes and proteins in the blood that are made or cleared by the liver.
    • Imaging tests, like FibroScan which measure the scar tissue (fibrosis) in your liver; or ultrasound, CT or MRI scans that can reveal the extent of fat deposits in your liver.
    • A liver biopsy where a tiny piece of your liver is taken for study.
  • Treatment options icon plus

    If you have been diagnosed with NAFLD, your consultant will discuss your treatment options with you and help to determine the best approach for you.

    There is no specific medication to treat NAFLD, but treatment may be recommended for associated conditions (high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol) or complications.

    If your NAFLD is linked to being overweight, your consultant may advise that you make various lifestyle changes, including losing weight gradually, eating a healthy and balanced diet and exercising regularly. You may also be advised to stop smoking as this can help reduce your risk of problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

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This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional.
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