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Am Fam Physician. 2006;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.

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