Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis

What causes nonalcoholic steatohepatitis?

The underlying cause of NASH remains unclear. It most often occurs in persons who are middle-aged and overweight or obese. Many patients with NASH have elevated blood lipids, such as cholesterol and triglycerides, and many have diabetes or prediabetes. However, not every obese person or every patient with diabetes has NASH. Furthermore, some patients with NASH are not obese, do not have diabetes, and have normal blood cholesterol and lipids. NASH can occur without any apparent risk factor and can even occur in children.

While the underlying reason for the liver injury that causes NASH is not known, several factors are possible candidates:

  • insulin resistance
  • release of toxic inflammatory proteins by fat cells (cytokines)
  • oxidative stress (deterioration of cells) inside liver cells

Last updated on 05-01-20

How is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis diagnosed?

NASH is usually first suspected when elevations are noted in liver tests that are included in routine blood test panels. These may include alanine aminotransferase (ALT) or aspartate aminotransferase (AST). When further evaluation shows no apparent reason for liver disease (such as medications, viral hepatitis, or excessive use of alcohol) and when x-rays or imaging studies of the liver show fat, NASH is suspected. The only way to definitely diagnosis NASH and separate it from simple fatty liver is through a liver biopsy. For a liver biopsy, a needle is inserted through the skin to remove a small piece of the liver. NASH is diagnosed when examination of the tissue with a microscope shows fat along with inflammation and damage to liver cells. If the tissue shows fat without inflammation and damage, simple fatty liver or NAFLD is diagnosed. An important piece of information learned from the biopsy is whether scar tissue has developed in the liver. Blood tests and scans cannot reliably provide this information at this time.

Last updated on 05-01-20

How might nonalcoholic steatohepatitis be treated?

Currently, there are no specific therapies for NASH. The most important recommendations given to persons with this disease are to:

  • reduce their weight (if obese or overweight)
  • follow a balanced and healthy diet
  • increase physical activity
  • avoid alcohol
  • avoid unnecessary medications

These are standard recommendations, but they can make a difference. They are also helpful for other conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.

Individuals with other medical conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol) should be treated with medication as advised by their physician.

Some new treatment options are now being studied in clinical trials. These include the use of antioxidants (such as vitamin E, selenium, and betaine) and some newer antidiabetic medications (metformin, rosiglitazone, and pioglitazone) which treat insulin resistance.

Last updated on 05-01-20

Where To Start

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NIDDK) offers information on this condition. Click on the link to view information on this topic.

Last updated on 04-27-20

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis - Resources provides information about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. Click on the link to view this information.

Last updated on 04-27-20

Name: American Liver Foundation 39 Broadway, Suite 2700
New York, NY, 10006, United States
Phone: +1-212-668-1000 Toll Free: +1-800-465-4837 (Helpline) Email: Url:

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