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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), also known as steatohepatitis, is an inflammation of the liver caused by an accumulation of fat deposits in the liver tissue. In most people, the underlying problem is obesity, diabetes or both. Additional factors are a family history of diabetes and high blood lipids in people who are not obese. In some patients, genetic factors appear to be important.

NAFLD typically shows up as an unexpected abnormality in liver function tests, usually the alanine aminotransferase (ALT) test, in people who otherwise feel well. The elevation of this test generally is minor and in younger patients, does not indicate a serious liver condition. However, if the cause of NAFLD, such as obesity or diabetes, is not treated, the condition may progress.

In people over the age of 50, the first indication of NAFLD may be a sign of serious liver disease, cirrhosis. Studies are underway to determine the precise risk of progression of NAFLD to cirrhosis; at this time, it is estimated as 20 percent.

As the prevalence of obesity has been increasing in the United States, the incidence of NAFLD also has been increasing. As a result, NAFLD is now among the most common reasons that patients are referred for liver transplantation.

Our Approach to Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease focuses on addressing its underlying cause, which is often obesity, diabetes or both. Successful treatment can stop or slow the liver damage.

If the liver becomes too damaged to function, liver transplantation may be an option. UCSF offers a liver transplant program known for outstanding outcomes and survival statistics that are among the best in the country. Our program helped pioneer techniques that have made transplantation safer and more successful.

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UCSF Health medical specialists have reviewed this information. It is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or other health care provider. We encourage you to discuss any questions or concerns you may have with your provider.