People with NAFLD, or fatty liver disease, have a buildup of excess fat in the liver due to causes unrelated to alcohol use. Research indicates that NAFLD may lower a person’s life expectancy.

A doctor may diagnose someone with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) if over 5–10% of their liver weight consists of fat.

In the United States, NAFLD is one of the most common causes of liver disease, affecting an estimated 24% of adults. In addition, a 2023 overview of research suggests that NAFLD has an estimated prevalence rate of roughly 11.5% to 46% among the global population.

Some people with NAFLD develop a more severe form of the condition that doctors call nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Experts estimate that NASH affects about 1.5% to 6.5% of adults in the United States.

This article explores the potential effects of fatty liver disease on a person’s life expectancy. It also discusses NAFLD treatment, prevention, and when to contact a doctor.

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A 2023 systematic review found that people with NAFLD may have a lower life expectancy due to a higher risk of heart failure from different possible causes. This includes:

People with NAFLD have a 71% higher risk of heart failure-related hospitalization or re-hospitalization than those without NAFLD.

A 2022 study, which examined the risk of cardiovascular disease and life expectancy in NAFLD, found that people with NAFLD may have a lower life expectancy of about 2.8 years compared with people without NAFLD.

According to an older study investigating the liver-related death rate in people with nonalcoholic and alcoholic fatty liver disease, people living with either type of fatty liver disease have a greater risk of liver-related death than the general population.

According to the American Liver Foundation, there is no medical treatment for NAFLD, but a doctor will assess a person’s symptoms and recommend appropriate management techniques for each individual with NAFLD. A healthcare professional may also recommend speaking with a hepatologist, or liver specialist.

Lifestyle modifications a doctor may recommend for people living with NAFLD include:

Healthcare professionals may recommend a liver transplant if a person has severe liver damage, liver failure, or liver cancer. During this surgical procedure, a surgeon will replace the damaged liver with a healthy liver.

To help prevent NAFLD, a doctor may recommend the following tips:

It is important to note that people with NAFLD and NASH may be asymptomatic, which means they may not experience or notice any symptoms.

Learn more about the similarities and differences between NAFL, NAFLD, and NASH.

However, a person should speak with a doctor if they are experiencing any of the following symptoms:

A healthcare professional will assess a person’s symptoms and order additional testing to make a diagnosis.

People with NAFLD should also speak with a doctor for guidance about how to manage their condition and to inform them of any new or worsening symptoms they are experiencing.

NAFLD is a condition in which a person has a buildup of excess fat in their liver due to causes unrelated to alcohol. Research indicates that people with NAFLD may have a lower life expectancy than people who do not have NAFLD.

While there is no medical treatment for NAFLD, a doctor may recommend that a person make some lifestyle modifications, including avoiding alcohol, quitting smoking, and limiting sugary foods and drinks to help manage the condition.

Similarly, a person may help prevent NAFLD by eating a healthy diet, maintaining a moderate weight, engaging in regular physical activity, and taking medication as instructed by a healthcare professional.

People with NAFLD may not experience any symptoms. However, a person should speak with a doctor immediately if they experience symptoms such as jaundice, weakness, and loss of appetite.