Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) Care at Northwestern Medicine

The Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) Program, part of the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center, offers a customized hepatology and weight management plan for patients affected by NAFLD. The program is designed to provide personalized treatment plans to help patients adapt, maintain a healthy lifestyle and improve their condition. The program is supported by a multidisciplinary team comprised of hepatologists, health psychologists and registered dieticians who collaborate to provide comprehensive treatment.

What is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the buildup of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. It is normal for the liver to contain some fat. However, if more than 5% - 10% percent of the liver's weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver (steatosis).

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly common and it is estimated to affect 100 million people in the United States. NAFLD can affect individuals of all ages but it is most common in middle age adults.

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Risk Factors

Although healthcare experts do not know the exact cause of NAFLD, there are known risk factors that cause certain groups to be more prone to development of the condition. Risk factors include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having diabetes
  • Having high cholesterol or triglycerides

Symptoms

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can occur without symptoms. If symptoms are present, they may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite
  • Spider-like blood vessels
  • Abdominal pain
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice)
  • Itching
  • Fluid build up
  • Mental confusion

Diagnosis

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is initially suspected if blood tests show high levels of liver enzymes. However, other liver diseases are first ruled out through additional tests. Often, an ultrasound is used to confirm the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosis.

Management and Treatment

There are currently no medical treatments for NAFLD and in some cases treatment is not required. Northwestern Medicine has active clinical trials related to treatment of NAFLD. However, certain lifestyle medications may help prevent liver damage from starting or reverse it in the early stages. These include:

  • Lose weight, if you are overweight or obese
  • Lower your cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Control your diabetes
  • Avoid alcohol

In addition, it is recommended that patients with NAFLD see a doctor who specializes in the liver regularly. Our experts at Northwestern Medicine can help patients take steps to improve their liver health.

Why choose Northwestern Medicine?

The Northwestern Medicine Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) Program takes a collaborative, multidisciplinary approach to treatment of patients with NAFLD. Our team includes hepatologists who are leading experts in NAFLD, health psychologists and registered dieticians. Through this collaboration, the team capitalizes on the collective knowledge and expertise to care for all aspects of the condition. Our team works closely to ensure that each patient is provided with a comprehensive treatment plan that is specifically tailored to their needs. This model also ensures that care is well coordinated. In addition, as part of the Northwestern Medicine Digestive Health Center, the NAFLD program provides patients with access to an array of other digestive disease specialists who can assist with treatment of the full spectrum of liver disease. Our team is also actively engaged in research to support advancements related to diagnosis and treatment.

Patient Experience

To schedule an appointment please call: 312.695.4837 (69.LIVER)

During your initial appointment you will meet with a hepatologist (Mary Rinella, MD or Lisa VanWagner, MD) who will complete a comprehensive evaluation and determine if further testing is needed. After the evaluation and completion of any necessary testing, you will work with the doctor to develop a treatment plan. Your plan may include:

  • Weight loss strategies
  • Dietary plans
  • Exercise and behavior modifications
  • Medications
  • Supplements
  • Surgery

In addition, you will attend sessions with our dietician (Holly Herrington, RD) monthly and will have the option to meet with one of our health psychologists (Sarah Quinton, PsyD, Anjali Pandit, PhD, or Kathryn Tomasino, PhD). The entire team closely follows all patients on an ongoing basis to monitor response to treatment.

Appointments will take place at:

NMH SmallMap_NAFLD (1) Northwestern Digestive Health Center
Lavin Family Pavilion
259 East Erie Street, 16th Floor
Chicago, IL 60611


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