October is Liver Awareness Month, and we’re chatting with Dr. Andrew Crane, of the Indianapolis Gastroenterology and Hepatology Quality Institute, about the alarming increase of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Dr. Crane says the disease affects up to 25 percent of people in the United States, and it’s a buildup of extra fat in the liver that isn’t caused by alcohol. He says it’s normal for the liver to contain some fat, but if more than 5 to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a “fatty liver.”
1) It affects around 1 in 5 — it’s common!
2) Some of those people also have associated liver inflammation, called NASH, which affects around 5% of Americans.
3) NASH can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, and this doesn’t require the use of alcohol.
4) There are usually no symptoms of fatty liver disease until cirrhosis develops. Similarly, cirrhosis may have no symptoms until it is fairly advanced. Symptoms of cirrhosis can include: muscle wasting, fatigue, abdominal fluid buildup, confusion, development of spider-like blood vessel lesions on the skin, yellowing of the skin (jaundice), and sometimes gastrointestinal bleeding.
5) Diagnosis of fatty liver is made by lab tests and either imaging or liver biopsy, along with excluding excess alcohol use as the cause.
6) Risk factors for NAFLD include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and being overweight.
7) Due to these risk factors, people with fatty liver are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
8) There is no “pill” specific for fatty liver. The best treatment includes a healthy diet, exercise, and weight loss.
9) Diet, exercise, and weight loss can reverse liver damage and prevent development of cirrhosis, and help reduce the risk of associated heart attack and stroke
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