Alcohol is not a factor in some cases of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
When Becky McKeown developed a nagging pain in her side, she brushed it off as a potentially weird side effect of weight gain. Since having her first son at age 16, her weight had begun creeping up, and by the time the pain started, she estimates she was around 100 pounds overweight.
So she expected her doctor to bring up her weight when she went in for a routine check-up when she was 22. What she didn’t expect was to hear that her liver was in serious trouble—to such a degree that the doc suggested she might have full-blown cirrhosis by the time she hit 40. The kicker was that she rarely drank alcohol.
“For someone who isn’t really a drinker, and is in her early 20s, to have liver problems was just not something I would have thought was possible,” she says. “I didn’t get it.”
NAFLD happens when fat builds up in the liver. It’s normal for the liver to contain some fat. But when more than 10 percent of the liver’s weight is from fat, this is considered NAFLD, and there are two types: simple fatty liver and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
With simple fatty liver, you have fat in the liver but little to no inflammation or liver damage, and you can live with it often without complications, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK). NASH is far more serious, since inflammation and liver cell damage can lead to scarring, and that might eventually prompt cirrhosis or liver cancer. With those conditions, you may face organ failure and would need a liver transplant.
Simple fatty liver and NASH are two separate conditions, although sometimes you can have one form and see it progress to the other, which is what happened with McKeown.
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