Fatty Liver Disease

What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease, also called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is a type of liver disease that happens when excess fat is stored in the liver.

NAFLD is one of the most common causes of liver disease and affects approximately 10 percent of cases. The condition is most common in Hispanic children, followed by children who are Caucasian. It is least common among African American children.

More boys than girls develop NAFLD. Certain conditions also make children more likely to develop fatty liver disease.

There are two types of fatty liver disease:

  • Simple fatty liver disease, when a child has accumulated fat in the liver but no inflammation or cell damage.
  • Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), when fat in a child's liver leads to inflammation and cell damage. NASH is a serious condition that can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

NAFLD and NASH are considered silent diseases because they often have no symptoms. For many children, the only symptoms are feeling tired or having discomfort in the upper right abdomen.

What causes fatty liver disease?

Researchers do not fully understand why some children develop NAFLD. They do know that it is more common in children with certain conditions. These conditions include:

How we care for NAFLD

At Boston Children's Hospital, we take a multidisciplinary approach to the care of children with NAFLD. Our Center for Childhood Liver Disease is one of the few centers in the country with a dedicated team of specialists who are board-certified in pediatric hepatology.

Our team of pediatric liver doctors, dieticians, nurses, and administrative staff is dedicated to the care of children with confirmed or suspected fatty liver disease. We use specialized non-invasive imaging tests, like the FibroScan, to help estimate the degree of scarring and fat in the liver and to help manage the fatty liver disease.

In addition, we work closely with the other specialty programs at Boston Children’s to ensure each child receives comprehensive care. The Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition takes a multidisciplinary approach to the evaluation and management of fatty liver disease.

Because obesity is a significant risk factor for many conditions, including NAFLD, Boston Children’s offers five hospital-based programs to help children and their families manage their weight.