Please note: This information was current at the time of publication. But medical information is always changing, and some information given here may be out of date. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit, the AAFP patient education website.

Information from Your Family Doctor

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: What You Should Know


Am Fam Physician. 2006 Jun 1;73(11):1969.

  See related article on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)?

NAFLD is a buildup of fat in the liver. NAFLD can be harmless, but sometimes it may cause the liver to swell. It is a common condition that has many causes, including some drugs and genetic disorders. The most common causes of NAFLD are obesity, diabetes, and high cholesterol levels. It is not caused by drinking alcohol.

How can my doctor tell if I have NAFLD?

If you have NAFLD, you may feel fullness or pain in the right side of the abdomen. Most people do not have any symptoms. Your doctor may check your blood and order a scan of your liver.

What can I expect?

For most people, NAFLD is harmless and does not cause serious health problems. NAFLD usually does not affect how well the liver works. In a few people, NAFLD may stop the liver from working right. No one can tell who will have problems. It is more likely to happen in people with diabetes or who are very overweight. If your doctor thinks you may have a more severe liver disease, you may need a liver biopsy.

How is NAFLD treated?

People with NAFLD usually do not need treatment. The most important thing is to focus on what has led to NAFLD. Losing weight slowly (1 to 2 pounds per week) may reduce the amount of fat in your liver. Losing weight quickly may make NAFLD worse. If your cholesterol and sugar levels are high, your doctor may give you medicine to lower them.

This handout is provided to you by your family doctor and the American Academy of Family Physicians. Other health-related information is available from the AAFP online at

This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.


Copyright © 2006 by the American Academy of Family Physicians.
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