Find Out What It Is And How To Prevent It
When you think of patients who are diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver or fatty liver disease, you may be picturing an alcoholic who has been drinking heavily for years. But, that’s not the case anymore.
There’s a disturbing new trend in liver disease and it’s called Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).
Scott & White Chief of Hepatology, (gastroenterologist) Dawn Sears, MD, said that this type of liver disease will be the leading cause of liver cancer and liver transplants in the next 10 to 15 years.
What is NASH?
“It is caused by having extra fat in the body,” Dr. Sears said. “It’s usually from diabetes, high cholesterol, being overweight or eating a high-fat diet.”
NAFLD or NASH is found in over 80 percent of patients who are obese and over 50 percent of patients undergoing bariatric surgery.
Why is this type of liver disease becoming so prevalent?
“It’s because of our lifestyles,” she said. “We’re not getting exercise, we’re drinking a tremendous amount of soda, eating a large amount of fast food and a large portion of the population has diabetes, high cholesterol or is obese.”
“We’re not getting exercise, we’re drinking a tremendous amount of soda, eating a large amount of fast food and a large portion of the population has diabetes, high cholesterol or is obese.”
What are the symptoms?
Most patients don’t feel any sort of difference. Dr. Sears said they may feel some fatigue, but there are no symptoms that will alert a patient to have their liver checked.
“The most common way it shows up is when someone is getting a checking liver test,” she said. “Whether they’re being put on a cholesterol-lowering medication and they’re monitoring the liver or when they’re doing a pre-op physical.”
The other way NASH is detected is when the patient gets a picture of their body—either an ultrasound of the gallbladder or kidneys or a CAT scan for another reason.
But the disease can only be seen in imaging if 30 percent of the liver is already taken over by fat.
What is the prognosis?
The good news about this type of liver disease is that it is 100 percent reversible, Dr. Sears said.
“If a patient decides to make dramatic lifestyle changes by not eating a high-fat diet, exercising 20 to 40 minutes a day, eating five to seven fruits and vegetables a day and making healthy choices, they can reverse this within a year,” she said.
But if they continue down the same path, ten percent of them will go on to have cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer or liver failure.
“If patients have liver disease, I just want them to be inspired to be proactive and know that they can have (complete) control of their destiny,” Dr. Sears said. “And if they make good choices, the benefits can last for decades.”
For more information about NASH or other types of fatty liver disease, click here.
About the author
Jessa McClure holds a degree in journalism and mass communication from the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton, TX, where she is currently an adviser for student publications. She has been a writer in the health care field since 2009.