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Understanding Lab Values > Liver Function Tests: NAFLD

Liver Function Tests: NAFLD

Children who are overweight for a long time are at risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It develops slowly when too much fat stays in the liver. In mild cases children only have fat build up. In more serious cases scar tissue called fibrosis forms. Fibrosis can lead to cirrhosis.

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Our liver is important because it makes bile to help digest food and absorb nutrients, breaks food down into energy, stores energy, manages cholesterol, makes proteins, and clears harmful chemicals out of the blood. When it is damaged it can lead to many health problems. NAFLD often is associated with pre-diabetes, diabetes, or insulin resistance and high triglycerides. All of these affect a child's overall health.

There might not be any symptoms of NAFLD in mild forms, but it can cause tirednes, fluid in the belly or legs (edema), and abdominal pain. Children with NAFLD are at increased risk of heart attacks and strokes. They also might require a liver transplant due to cirrohis of the liver.

Diagnosis is made based on elevated liver tests (Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT)), liver ultrasounds, and possibly a liver biopsy.

While there are some medications that are used with the help of a liver specialist, treatment of NAFLD centers on treating the child's obesity. Here are things all of us can do to help keep our livers healthy:
 
  • Avoid sugar drinks
  • Drink mostly water and some low fat milk
  • Get at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day
  • Limit TV and screen time to one hour of less per day
  • Make half your plate vegetables at mealtimes
  • Eat breakfast everyday
  • Avoid alcohol and medications that affect the liver

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