Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), sometimes just called ‘fatty liver’ is caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese. It is very common and it is estimated that as many as 1 in 4 people have a fatty liver.
In most people NAFLD does not cause any harm, but in a small number of people it can lead to more serious liver damage.
There are not usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages. You probably will not know you have it unless it’s diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason.
People who do have symptoms usually report feeling tired or fatigued. Some people experience right sided abdominal pain.
The GP will use your test results to perform a risk calculation and identify if you are at higher risk of developing more serious liver problems.
If your risk is deemed to be low, you will be given lifestyle advice and the GP will continue to monitor your condition, usually every 3 years.
Those at higher risk will be referred to a specialist liver doctor at the hospital, called a Hepatologist where a more specialised scan called a fibroscan can be carried out. A small number of people need a liver biopsy.
The good news is that if it is detected and managed at an early stage, it is possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the risk of more serious liver damage or other health problems.
If you are diagnosed with NAFLD it's a good idea to take steps to stop it getting any worse.
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the main way of doing this:
- Lose weight – you should aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 (use the BMI calculator to work out your BMI). Losing 10% of your body weight can remove some of the fat from around your liver.
- Eat a healthy diet
- Exercise regularly
- If you are a smoker, stop smoking
- Drink plenty of water
NAFLD is not caused by alcohol, but drinking may make it worse. It is therefore advisable to cut down or stop drinking alcohol.
More information on NAFLD can be found on the NHS website:
The Eastern Liver Network have also created a helpful information leaflet: