Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver. It can lead to more serious liver and health conditions. Lifestyle changes are typically the best treatment for fatty liver disease in children.
Fatty liver disease, often called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is a condition that occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver. This can happen in people of all ages, including children.
Fatty liver disease typically does not cause any symptoms, and it doesn’t always cause liver damage. However, it can lead to liver inflammation, scarring, and serious liver conditions.
The best treatment approach for fatty liver disease involves lifestyle strategies such as eating a nutritious diet, making efforts to maintain a moderate weight, and increasing physical activity.
Fatty liver disease is a condition that happens when excess fat builds up in your liver. This buildup can be caused by heavy alcohol use or by several other factors. Fatty liver disease that is not the result of heavy alcohol use is typically called NAFLD. This is the type of fatty liver disease that can happen in children.
NAFLD occurs more often in male children than in female children. Compared to other ethnic groups, children of Hispanic heritage are the most likely to develop this disease.
Sometimes, NAFLD doesn’t cause inflammation or cell damage. In that case, it’s called simple NAFLD. However, NAFLD does sometimes lead to liver inflammation and scarring. This is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), and it’s a more serious condition.
Often, NAFLD does not cause any symptoms. It’s considered a silent health condition because many children experience no symptoms. If symptoms do occur, they can be as minor as mild stomach discomfort and fatigue.
Health experts do not fully understand the exact causes of NAFLD in children. However, there are some known risk factors and conditions linked to an increased risk of NAFLD, including:
NAFLD may lead to NASH, which can cause liver scarring. As liver scarring progresses, it can lead to serious liver conditions such as:
- liver failure
- liver cancer
Healthcare professionals will typically diagnose fatty liver disease based on medical history and blood test results. For instance, a history of a condition such as type 2 diabetes, in combination with high levels of liver enzymes on routine blood work, can point to fatty liver disease.
Sometimes, healthcare professionals may perform additional testing. This may include an ultrasound to get images of the liver and any fat buildup along with a test called a FibroScan that uses ultrasound waves to predict possible future liver scarring.
If a doctor thinks liver scarring or inflammation is already present, they might order a liver biopsy.
Treatment for fatty liver disease in children focuses on stopping the progression of fat buildup and avoiding liver damage. To do this, your child’s doctor might suggest:
- following a weight loss plan
- increasing physical activity
- following a modified diet that includes healthier foods
- taking steps to manage diabetes or prediabetes
No pill or cure is available that can simply reverse fatty liver disease. These lifestyle strategies are currently the best way to treat the condition.
Fatty liver disease is chronic, and it’s often a good idea for children with this condition to have their livers monitored throughout their lives. However, lifestyle changes can have a large effect on fatty liver disease. They can stop the progression and prevent future complications.
Children with fatty liver disease who reach a moderate weight, maintain healthy eating habits, and stay physically active might never develop any liver damage, conditions, or complications.
The best ways to prevent fatty liver disease are lifestyle-based. Children who have a moderate body weight, get enough physical activity, and eat a nutritious diet have a lower risk of fatty liver disease.
A doctor or registered dietitian can help you create an eating plan for your child if you’re worried about their risk of fatty liver disease.
You can learn more about fatty liver disease in children by reading the answers to these common questions.
Can any supplements or alternative treatments help fatty liver disease in children?
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any supplements or other treatments to treat fatty liver disease. Medications are currently being studied, but lifestyle strategies are currently the safest option.
Does fatty liver disease run in families?
Fatty liver disease might have a genetic component. Researchers are studying the genes and any family links that might lead to fatty liver disease.
Right now, we don’t know for sure whether the disease runs in families. But if multiple people in your family have fatty liver disease, you might want to consider taking extra steps to manage risk factors.
Can children join clinical trials for fatty liver disease?
Yes. Children who have fatty liver disease might be able to participate in clinical trials to help researchers find out more about this condition. You can find more information
Fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in your liver. Children with conditions such as obesity and type 2 diabetes are at higher risk for fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disese doesn’t always cause liver damage or inflammation, but it can lead to other, more serious complications, such as liver scarring and even liver failure.
Lifestyle changes are the best treatment for fatty liver disease. Typically, these include making an effort to reach or maintain a moderate weight, increasing physical activity, and maintaining a nutritious diet.