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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH is a metabolic illness that consists of an accumulation of fat in the hepatic cells. Alcohol is the most frequent cause of the build-up of fat in the liver, but when alcohol is not a cause in its development, another origin or cause must be stressed.

Why fat accumulates in the liver is not known with certainty but some mechanisms are very important in the development of the disease, such as insulin resistance, oxidative stress and the liberation of endotoxins, which favor the development of a series of reactions that determine the presence of inflammation and cirrhosis.

Steatohepatitis encompasses a set of clinical conditions that go from the simple presence of fat in the tissue to the development of a hepatic inflammation with the possibility of developing fibrosis, and finally, leading to chronic hepatic damage.

Approximately between 20 – 30% of adults in the general population suffer from this disease and this number increases to between 70 – 90% in those persons who are obese, have diabetes, hypercholesterolemia and hypertriglyceridemia (high levels of blood fats and cholesterol).


Steatohepatitis causes no signs and symptoms and no complications and is usually discovered when during another test such as an abdominal ultrasound. Nonetheless, some people can have a slight pain in the abdomen, in the area of the liver, that can lead to more testing. Only a small percentage of patients develop the symptoms of liver failure.


It is important to point out the there is no definite treatment for a non-alcoholic fatty liver and that managing and treating the disease is a lifelong action treating those factors that favor its development. In the majority of persons, it will not develop into a severe illness but it is fundamental to manage and treat the illnesses that are often associated with it, such as diabetes, cholesterol problems and obesity. Note that weight loss should be gradual as a rapid weight loss can worsen the condition. A good physical exercise program is also recommended.

Gene or region studied

  • PNPLA3
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