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Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is liver inflammation and damage caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. It is part of a group of conditions called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. You may be told you have a "fatty liver." Many people have a buildup of fat in the liver, and for most people it causes no symptoms and no problems. But in some people, the fat causes inflammation and damages cells in the liver. Because of the damage, the liver doesn't work as well as it should.
NASH can get worse and cause scarring of the liver, which leads to cirrhosis. But the disease doesn't always get worse.
NASH is similar to the kind of liver disease that is caused by long-term, heavy drinking. But NASH occurs in people who don't abuse alcohol.
Experts don't know why some people with a buildup of fat in the liver get NASH and some don't. It could be that something in the environment triggers the inflammation in those people. Or maybe it runs in their families.
Things that put people at risk for NASH and for liver damage include:
Most people who have NASH are 40 to 50 years old and have one or more of the problems listed above. But NASH can happen in people who have none of these risk factors.
You may have no symptoms in the early stages of NASH. Most people who have NASH feel fine and don't know that they have it.
As NASH progresses and liver damage gets worse, you may start to have symptoms such as:
It may take many years for NASH to become severe enough to cause symptoms.
No single test can diagnose NASH. Your doctor will ask you about other health problems you've had.
To see if fat is building up in your liver and to rule out other diseases, your doctor may do tests such as:
Your doctor may do a liver biopsy to be sure that you have NASH. In a liver biopsy, your doctor takes a sample of tissue from your liver and checks it for signs of NASH.
Treatment for NASH includes managing conditions that increase your risk for NASH or make it worse. You can:
Also, ask your doctor or pharmacist about all the medicines you are taking. Some may harm your liver.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest medicine to control or reverse liver damage caused by NASH.
Learning about nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH):
Living with NASH:
The American Liver Foundation (ALF) funds research and
informs the public about liver disease. A nationwide network of chapters and
support groups exists to help people who have liver disease and to help their families. ALF
also sponsors a national organ-donor program to increase public awareness of
the continuing need for organs. You can send an email by completing a form on the contact page on the ALF website: www.liverfoundation.org/contact.
This clearinghouse is a service of the U.S. National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the
U.S. National Institutes of Health. The clearinghouse answers questions;
develops, reviews, and sends out publications; and coordinates information
resources about digestive diseases. Publications produced by the clearinghouse
are reviewed carefully for scientific accuracy, content, and readability.
Chalasani N, et al. (2012). The diagnosis and management of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: Practice guideline by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, American College of Gastroenterology, and the American Gastroenterological Association. American Journal of Gastroenterology, 107(6): 811–826.
Other Works Consulted
Ahmed A, et al. (2006). Alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. In MM Wolfe et al., eds., Therapy of Digestive Disorders, 2nd ed., pp. 547–564. Philadelphia: Saunders.
American Gastroenterological Association (2002, reapproved 2008). AGA
technical review on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Gastroenterology, 123(5): 1705–1725.
Collantes R, et al. (2004). Nonalcoholic fatty liver
disease and the epidemic of obesity. Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine, 71(8): 657–664.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (1998). Clinical Guidelines on the Identification, Evaluation, and Treatment of Overweight and Obesity in Adults. Available online:
St. George A, et al. (2009). Independent effects of physical activity in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology, 50(1): 68–76.
June 26, 2013
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & W. Thomas London, MD - Hepatology
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