Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver disease in the U.S. For some people, it doesn’t cause any problems. But it puts others at risk for cirrhosis, liver failure, liver cancer and cardiovascular disease. If you have NAFLD, don’t take any chances – get care from an experienced team.

At Henry Ford Health, our liver specialists provide complete care for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. We help you reverse liver damage and prevent serious complications through clinical trials, specialty clinics and the latest evidence-based therapies.

What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?

NAFLD occurs when fat cells build up in your liver, which can cause it to swell or develop scar tissue (fibrosis). It’s usually related to conditions such as:

  • Excess body weight
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Type 2 diabetes

NAFLD occurs in people who are not heavy drinkers, as opposed to alcohol-related liver disease, which is the result of excessive alcohol consumption.

Are there different types of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?

NAFLD (also called simple steatosis) means there is fat buildup in your liver but little or no liver inflammation. The more severe form of NAFLD is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH causes inflammation, scarring and liver damage that can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Signs and symptoms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

NAFLD doesn’t usually cause any symptoms at first, but as the disease progresses, it can lead to:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Swelling in your legs (edema)
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellow skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Reduced appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

How is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosed?

NAFLD can be difficult to diagnose since it may not cause symptoms. In fact, abnormal results on routine blood tests are usually the first sign that something is wrong.

If we suspect NAFLD, we do a series of tests that may include:

  • Lab tests: Blood tests check your liver function. Sometimes NAFLD causes high levels of liver enzymes in your blood, but not always. We can also use blood tests to rule out other health conditions.
  • Imaging exams: We may recommend a CT scan, ultrasound or MRI to check the size and shape of your liver. Imaging can also help us spot abnormal fat deposits in your liver. At Henry Ford, we offer FibroScan®, a noninvasive test that measures scarring in your liver.
  • Liver biopsy: We may do a liver biopsy to determine the extent of fat buildup and scarring in your liver. This information helps us distinguish between NAFLD and NASH so that we can better plan your treatment. During a biopsy, we use a needle to take a tissue sample from your liver. A pathologist looks at it under a microscope for signs of disease.

Learn more about how we diagnose liver disease at Henry Ford.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver treatment at Henry Ford

Our Metabolic Disease Clinic brings together hepatologists (liver specialists), endocrinologists, dietitians, psychologists, endoscopists and other providers to treat NAFLD and NASH. We specialize in liver disease complicated by metabolic conditions such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

NAFLD or NASH treatment may include:

  • Lifestyle modifications: The main fatty liver treatments include eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. These lifestyle adjustments can help reverse early liver damage and prevent disease progression. A dietitian can help you lose weight, lower cholesterol and manage Type 2 diabetes.
  • No alcohol: Drinking alcohol isn’t the underlying cause of NAFLD, but it can worsen the disease. We recommend people with liver disease avoid alcohol completely. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories, making it harder to lose weight.
  • Bariatric surgery: People with NAFLD or NASH who haven’t been able to lose weight with diet and exercise may be candidates for weight loss surgery. Henry Ford offers a comprehensive bariatric surgery program focusing on minimally invasive procedures.
  • Liver transplantation: People with severe cirrhosis or liver failure may need a liver transplant. Henry Ford’s liver transplant program is one of the most experienced in Michigan and one of the highest-volume programs in the Midwest. We routinely perform living-donor transplants and deliver some of the highest survival rates in the state.
  • Clinical trials: We participate in ongoing clinical trials for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Your liver specialist will let you know if you’re a candidate for any current studies. Clinical trials give you access to NAFLD treatments and tests not available elsewhere. Browse our clinical trials.

Take the next step

To connect with a liver disease specialist, call (313) 916-8865 or request an appointment.

Take the next step

Let us help you schedule an appointment, call (800) 436-7936.


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