Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is the most common forms of chronic liver disease in children and adolescents. It occurs when you have too much fat in your liver. Your liver takes in food directly from the gut and processes fat, carbohydrates and protein into energy and other proteins. An imbalance in this process can result in too much fat coming into the liver cells.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease is a group on conditions that occur in different stages:
Children get NAFLD from environmental and genetic factors. Children may be at a higher risk if they:
Some conditions can look like NAFLD and need to be ruled out through investigations because treatments are very different. These conditions may include:
It is common for children who have NAFLD to not display any symptoms in the early stages. It is more common for symptoms to develop once significant damage to the liver has occurred.
Some symptoms include:
If cirrhosis develops, the following symptoms may be present:
There is no specific test for NAFLD. Most children are diagnosed because they are being tested for something else through routine blood tests and ultrasound scans. In some cases, a liver biopsy may be needed to confirm the diagnosis and assess the liver. It is important to have an honest discussion with your child’s medical provider about their health and lifestyle because liver disease can have very few symptoms.
NAFLD can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors; therefore, it is not always possible to avoid it. You can reduce your child’s risk through exercise, healthy eating and controlling existing medical conditions.
There are currently no approved medications to treat NAFLD, but we know the amount of fat in the liver can be reduced through weight loss, eating healthy and regular exercise. Medical professionals often seek the help of a dietitian.
Follow a healthy portion-controlled diet and avoid adult-sized portions for children and young people.
Check labels on the food you eat and know what the food you are eating contains. Foods have hidden fats, sugars, and salt.
Swap sugary drinks and breakfast for things like zero sugar/ low calorie drinks or wholegrain cereals with no added sugar.
Increase fiber intake by including beans and lentils in your daily diet.
Aim for five portions of fruit and vegetables a day.
Avoid frying foods and try to grill, bake or poach them instead.
Drink water as the main fluid intake
Children and young people should have at least 60 minutes of physical activity a day.
Sleep is just as important. Try to limit screen time and ensure your child is getting enough sleep. Pediatricians recommend less than 2 hours of screen time a day.
If the liver becomes damaged so much that it can’t work properly a transplant may be needed.
This presentation by Rachel W Smith, MD and Jaime Chu, MD is an excerpt from the ALF 2021 Poster Competition .
Last updated on August 16th, 2023 at 12:48 pm