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Fatty Liver Disease

Causes of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

The cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is not clear. Certain factors tend to increase risk, but in some cases, no risk factors show up. However, NAFLD tends to run in families. It also shows up most often in people who are middle-aged and overweight or obese. These people often have high cholesterol or triglycerides and diabetes or prediabetes (insulin resistance), as well.

Other potential causes of fatty liver disease include:

Recent studies show that an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and other changes in the intestine may be associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Some researchers now suspect this may play a role in the progression of NAFLD to NASH.

Acute Fatty Liver of Pregnancy

Though very rare, fat can build up in the liver of a mother during pregnancy, putting both mother and fetus at serious risk. Either may develop liver failure, kidney failure, severe infection, or hemorrhage. No one fully understands its cause, but hormones may play a role.

Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the baby is delivered as quickly as possible. Although the mother may need intensive care for several days, liver function often returns to normal within a few weeks.

Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease is often silent, producing no symptoms, especially in the beginning. If the disease advances -- which is usually over a period of years, or even decades -- it can cause vague problems such as:

These symptoms may also be present:

  • Pain in the center or right upper part of the abdomen
  • An enlarged liver
  • Patchy, dark skin discoloration, usually on the neck or underarm area

With alcoholic liver disease, symptoms may worsen after periods of heavy drinking. With NAFLD, the disease process can stop or reverse, or it may worsen. If cirrhosis develops, the liver loses its ability to function. This can cause signs and symptoms such as:

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