Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease specialists at Houston Methodist Lynda K. and David M. Underwood Center for Digestive Disorders pinpoint the cause of inflammation-induced liver damage to provide treatment that can help patients live a better life.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an accumulation of fat in the liver that can lead to chronic inflammation of the liver. This chronic inflammation can cause healthy liver cells to be replaced by scar tissue, which may then progress to cirrhosis. Over time, this compromises the function of the liver and can lead to many complications and symptoms. 


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is challenging to pinpoint and requires skilled medical professionals to diagnose. If you have risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or sleep apnea, consult an Underwood Center gastroenterologist.


Houston Methodist Hospital is ranked No. 5 by U.S. News & World Report for Gastroenterology & GI Surgery. U.S. News & World Report has also named Houston Methodist Hospital the No. 1 hospital in Texas every year since the award began and one of the nation’s best as a nationally ranked Honor Roll hospital.

Liver Conditions We Treat

NAFLD Risk Prevention, Causes & Treatment

What are the risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include:

  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Obesity, particularly when fat is concentrated in the abdomen
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)


To reduce your risk of NAFLD:

  • Choose a healthy plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats
  • Implement exercise into your daily routine
  • Reduce the number of calories you eat each day if you are overweight or obese

What are the signs and symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

You may not have any symptoms of NAFLD at all. Elevations in liver enzymes may be noted on routine blood work. This should warrant a consultation with a hepatologist or a liver specialist. 


Symptoms (if present) of NAFLD may include any of the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen


Symptoms of NASH may include any of the following:

  • Abdominal swelling 
  • Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin's surface
  • Enlarged spleen
  • Red palms
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes


Contact our gastroenterologists for testing if you experience any symptoms of NAFLD or NASH. A liver biopsy is currently the best diagnostic tool for both.



What are the causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

NAFLD and NASH may have the following causes that can promote the deposit of fat in the liver:

  • High blood sugar (hyperglycemia)
  • High levels of fats — such as triglycerides — in the blood
  • Insulin resistance
  • Overweight or obesity

How is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease treated?

Your doctor may use a combination of lifestyle intervention in the form of diet and exercise combined with medical management to treat NAFLD and NASH. A strong focus towards controlling risk factors is also necessary.

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