Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is often called a “silent disease” because many people who are affected don’t have any symptoms. They may only be diagnosed after liver-function tests reveal that their liver isn’t functioning as it should.
Symptoms, if they occur, may include dull abdominal pain over the liver area. There may also be signs of acanthosis nigricans – dark patches of skin in the back of the neck, under the arms or in other skin folds. This is a marker of insulin resistance.
NAFLD is strongly associated with increased insulin resistance, dyslipidaemia (high levels of fat in the blood), cardiovascular disease, and fat in the abdominal region.
In its early stages, the progression of NAFLD can be stopped by losing weight and exercising.
Reviewed by Dr Mark Sonderup, B Pharm, MB ChB, FCP (SA). Senior Specialist, Division of Hepatology, Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Hospital. July 2018.