In the News: NAFLD Underdetected in Menopausal Women

A study from the North American Menopause Society (NAMS) says non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, one risk factor for cardiovascular and other diseases, may be underdetected in post-menopausal women.
pretty mature woman

The study initially aimed to determine the effects of aerobic exercise on obesity among this group, but found previously undiagnosed NAFLD in some patients, according to the researchers.

The study did confirm health benefits from aerobic exercise, but the overlooked NAFLD was concerning.

“NAFLD is associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and adult-onset diabetes and is characterised by fat in the liver seen on ultrasound or other testing and elevated liver enzymes,” NAMS Executive Director Jo Ann V Pinkerton warned.

Information on why fatty liver had not been previously detected was not provided. However, menopause comes with its own laundry list of issues, and these vary from woman to woman (some women experience virtually no menopause symptoms at all). This lack of consistency, as well as other complaints taking the forefront and being managed, may be masking underlying NAFLD, or other conditions.

What is Menopause?

Though a woman may say she’s going through menopause once symptoms (such as irregular periods or hot flashes) start, technically, menopause is defined as 12 consecutive months without a menstrual period.

At this time, a woman is considered to be menopausal.

What are the Symptoms that Lead Up to Menopause?

“Symptoms” may be a misnomer as the changes a woman experiences prior to clinically defined menopause can be a natural thing. Symptom implies a negative underlying condition, but menopause is a natural occurrence that usually happens between the ages of 48 and 55 (the median age for menopause in the U.S. is 51).

However, many women experience one or more of the following before menstruation stops permanently (this in-between period may be called “perimenopause” by some physicians):

  • a blood test that shows elevated (high) FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) levels
  • irregular periods where previously, periods were regular/consistent
  • hot flashes
  • weight gain and bloating
  • mood changes
  • headaches (ALWAYS see a doctor for unusual headaches, no matter what you may suspect is the cause)
  • insomnia

Why is NAFLD Higher in Menopausal Women?

It may not be. However, if a patient is overweight she is more likely to have NAFLD. Also, the longer a patient is overweight the more likely she is to eventually develop NAFLD. Therefore, age may be a factor here, as well as fluctuating hormone levels.

Should You Get Screened for NAFLD?

Yes. Even if you’re a normal weight, hormone fluctuations and body changes could put you at risk for certain conditions, including NAFLD. So can poor diet, irregular sleep or stress.

To put your mind at ease, ask your doctor to screen you for NAFLD. Initial tests to rule out this condition are generally non-invasive.

What if I Feel Healthy?

Great! Keep active and keep enjoying life. Once you have ruled out potential health issues, you will want to continue on a program of a healthy diet and regular activity.

On the other hand, if NAFLD is confirmed, begin making changes to improve your condition. Again, diet and exercise will figure into this plan. So will regular rest, reducing stress where possible, and getting regular checkups to confirm that all is as it should be.

Menopause need not be a negative time. Think of it as a natural stage of life that may include issues which can be managed. Talk to your doctor for more information on how to make this time of life the time of your life.


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