Fatty Liver Disease

What is non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD)?

When you gain too much weight, it doesn't just accumulate on the outside of your body. Fat may deposit inside within organs such as the liver causing a condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Liver cells fill with large fat droplets and can become stressed, damaged or scarred—some even die. Excessive inflammation in the liver may develop and progress to cirrhosis, hardened, scarred liver tissue that stops the liver from functioning normally.  

Most people who have a body mass index (BMI) over 27 have fatty liver disease and may not know it. Fatty liver disease is silent at the start, much like high blood pressure. It is often discovered incidentally, when tests are taken for unrelated reasons. If blood or imaging tests reveal liver abnormalities, a physician will perform tests to rule out such other common liver diseases as hepatitis B or hepatitis C.

Who is at risk for fatty liver disease?

People who gain weight in the abdomen are at greater risk than those who gain weight around their hips or shoulders. This weight distribution in the abdomen is more common among men, putting them at slightly higher risk compared to women. Fatty liver disease typically occurs alongside other diseases related to obesity. For example, some 70 percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have fatty liver disease. 

Treatment for fatty liver disease

While there is no approved medication to treat the disease, losing 5-10 percent of body weight has been shown to help reverse it so that the can repair itself and regenerate healthy cells.  If you have abnormal liver test results, we'll look for the potential causes of those results so that we can develop an effective plan to help you make healthy lifestyle changes and lose weight. The Metabolic Health and Weight Loss program offers alternatives to GI patients who are overweight with medical conditions.

At Yale New Haven Hospital, we offer all effective non-surgical weight-loss interventions. In association with Yale Medicine, we conduct research to shed light on the underlying causes of fatty liver disease in order to develop improved treatments. And if weight-loss surgery is required, our bariatric surgeons are available to help with the latest, most proven techniques.