• Frequently Asked Questions for Patients and Families

    What is fatty liver disease?

    When someone is overweight or obese, too much fat can be stored in the liver. This can lead to a disease called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. In some children and adults, the extra fat in the liver becomes a more severe problem, causing inflammation and scar tissue. When this happens, it is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, (pronounced stee-at-oh-hep-a-titus), or NASH. Over time, NASH can lead to severe scarring, called cirrhosis (sir-oh-sis). Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and loss of liver function. Unfortunately today even children in elementary school are presenting with more and more advanced liver disease from this process.

    What are the risk factors for fatty liver disease?

    Besides obesity, other risk factors for NAFLD include many features of the metabolic syndrome, such as:

    • Diabetes and insulin resistance
    • Dyslipidemia (high serum lipids)

    Additionally, risk can be increased by race and ethnicity (Hispanics and Native Americans are at greater risk), as well as increasing age.

    How do we treat children with fatty liver disease?

    The elimination of excess weight is the most important goal in the treatment of NAFLD or NASH. We use the following to achieve this goal:

    • Standardized care so each patient receives the highest quality and safest care
    • Standard screening for closely related obesity co-morbidities and needed referrals to other subspecialties (endocrinology, pulmonary medicine, cardiology) as needed
    • Comprehensive dietary assessments: a registered dietitian will complete and monitor a dietary assessment for all patients and offer family-based, individualized recommendations
    • Referral of interested patients to more intensive weight management programs at Cincinnati Children’s, which includes both non-surgical (HealthWorks!) and surgical (Surgical Weight Loss Program for Teens) weight-management programs
    • Access to research studies and therapeutic treatment trials, both as part of local research initiatives and trials sponsored by the National Institutes of Health at a national level.