UPMC On Topic | NASH, Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis | Jaideep Behari, MD, PhD

Everyone knows that drinking too much alcohol can damage the liver, causing cirrhosis or scarring. But, what about liver damage that’s not caused by drinking?

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is often referred to as the “silent liver disease.” While similar to alcoholic liver disease, NASH affects people who drink little or no alcohol.

NASH occurs when a buildup of fat within the liver causes inflammation. For some people, that buildup of fat can be harmless. For others, it can cause serious damage that eventually leads to liver failure. Understanding nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is important in preventing and treating it.

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Causes and Symptoms of NASH

While many people have fat in their livers (a condition called fatty liver), a smaller percentage of people develop NASH. However, NASH is becoming more common due to increased rates of obesity.

While in its early stages, NASH can cause few or no symptoms. As the disease progresses and the liver becomes more and more damaged, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • General weakness
  • An ache in the upper right part of your belly

Because it develops so slowly, it may be difficult to recognize and understand the causes and symptoms of NASH until it’s too late.

Treatment for NASH

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While there’s no specific therapy or treatment for NASH, adopting a healthy lifestyle and addressing other health issues can help slow its progression. People with NASH should eat a healthy and balanced diet, exercise regularly, and avoid consuming alcohol.

While diet and lifestyle changes can help, some cases of NASH can lead to cirrhosis or even liver failure. When this happens, a liver transplant is the only option.

People in need of a liver transplant are carefully evaluated and placed on the liver transplant waiting list. While the wait for a donor liver to become available may take months or even years, the disease continues to progress.

Fortunately, receiving a transplant from a living donor can reduce the wait. During a living-donor liver transplant, a portion of the liver is removed from a healthy donor and transplanted into the person with the failing liver.

Living donation offers many lifesaving benefits, including:

  • Significantly shorter waiting time
  • Quicker recovery time
  • Improved long-term outcomes
  • Reduced waiting-list deaths

People interested in receiving a living-donor liver transplant should talk to their doctor about options for finding a suitable donor. It’s important to remember that living donors don’t have to be related or have the same blood type.

Speak to your doctor for information and resources on understanding nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and learn more about living-donor liver transplants at UPMC.

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Editor's Note: This video was originally published on , and was last reviewed on .

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