Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. It’s usually seen in people who are overweight or obese.
Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse.
Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
If you already have diabetes, NAFLD increases your chance of developing heart problems.
If detected and managed at an early stage, it’s possible to stop NAFLD getting worse and reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
Stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
NAFLD develops in 4 main stages.
Most people will only ever develop the first stage, usually without realising it.
In a small number of cases, it can progress and eventually lead to liver damage if not detected and managed.
The main stages of NAFLD are:
- simple fatty liver (steatosis) – a largely harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells that may only be diagnosed during tests carried – out for another reason
- non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – a more serious form of NAFLD, where the liver has become inflamed
- fibrosis – where persistent inflammation causes scar tissue around the liver and nearby blood vessels, but the liver is still able to function normally
- cirrhosis – the most severe stage, occurring after years of inflammation, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy; this damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure (where your liver stops working properly) and liver cancer
It can take years for fibrosis or cirrhosis to develop. It’s important to make lifestyle changes to prevent the condition getting worse.
If you are experiencing any symptoms, call your doctor immediately. You can also book an appointment.