Did you know that Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (otherwise known as NAFLD) affects 20% to 30% of the population in the United States?
Gastroenterologists tell us millions of people have this disease, without even knowing it, because few symptoms are apparent (especially) in the early stages.
Are you at risk?
If you are, don’t let it go undetected, because if left untreated, it can increase your chances of developing fibrosis and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver).
Even though you may not be obese or overweight, you may be at risk for the disease because of your specific genetic makeup or metabolism.
If You Have Some of the Risk Factors, See Your Gastroenterologist.
Alcohol Fatty liver disease (ALD) is associated with consumption of a modest to large amount of alcohol.
NAFLD on the other hand is linked to lifestyle issues such as overweight and obesity, but it is also closely associated with metabolic disorders such as Type 2 diabetes. The common underlying thread seems to be the development of what has been termed “insulin resistance.”
Both conditions involve the buildup of large amounts of fat cells in the liver, in some cases resulting in the development of inflammation in the liver (steatohepatitis) and even progression to fibrosis and cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). In some, this could also lead to a decline in liver function over time. And both diseases can lead to liver failure and cancer if left unaddressed. The progression of the disease can be left undetected, as both conditions have few symptoms in the early stages.
Check with your GI doctor to be safe.
There are challenges to diagnosing and managing NAFLD, even though it is one of the most common problems facing patients with the risk factors. NAFLD is often a silent disease with few or no symptoms. If you have symptoms, you may feel tired or have discomfort in the upper right side of your abdomen. Your gastroenterologist may suspect that you have NAFLD if you get abnormal results on liver tests found on blood chemistries.
Even if you don't have symptoms or abnormal liver tests, it’s important that you see your gastroenterologist and get tested if you have even just one or two of the following risk factors:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- High cholesterol and/or triglycerides
- Heavy alcohol consumption (fatty liver disease only)
There are several types of tests for Fatty Liver disease.
In order to diagnosis NAFL, very simple tests can be ordered by your gastroenterologist, including taking a blood sample to look at liver chemistries and screen for hepatitis amongst other things. Additional testing methods used by your gastroenterologist might include advanced imaging studies such as abdominal sonography, CAT Scanning, and MRI. Sometimes a liver biopsy may be performed. A liver biopsy is one of the most accurate ways the gastroenterologist can diagnose NAFLD. This procedure involves extracting a sample of liver tissue via a needle inserted into the liver.
A very simple tool knowns as a FibroScan® helps your gastroenterologist diagnose NAFLD. This very simple test can help quantify the amount of fat and the degree of scarring in the liver (fibrosis or cirrhosis), takes only a few minutes and can be done in your GI doctors’ office.
Your GI Doctor Can Help You Manage Fatty Liver Disease.
Gastroenterology researchers are still in the early stages of determining how best to help patients manage NAFLD comprehensively. Vitamin E as a treatment for NAFLD has shown promise in gastroenterology studies. Some diabetes treatments may also be helpful. There are a few drugs being studied by Gastroenterology and Hepatology researchers with promising results, however to date, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not approved any specific drug or compound for the treatment of NAFLD.
The most important path to take upon a diagnosis of NAFLD is a change in lifestyle. Diet modification and exercise are some of the best ways to fight NAFLD. The Mediterranean Diet has been shown to be effective in reducing or slowing its progression. Your GI doctor can provide more guidance regarding what to do if you are diagnosed with NAFLD.
Here are some of the management tools your Gastroenterologist is likely to recommend:
- Weight loss and diet modification
- Lowering triglycerides through diet and/or medication
- Control diabetes if you have it
- Eat balanced, healthy meals
- Increase physical activity and get regular exercise
- See your gastroenterologist regularly.
Statistically, NAFLD is the Most Common Liver Disease in the Developed World.
The concern in the gastroenterology community is that NAFLD has become far more common over the past several decades, affecting a growing share of the population. According to gastroenterology reports, NAFLD is statistically the most common liver disease in the developed world, affecting 20% to 30% of the population in the United States. An increasing number of cases are being identified in children. In the U.S., 90% of morbidly obese patients and 70% of those who have Type 2 diabetes have NAFLD. Gastroenterology researchers project that in the future it will be one of the top contributors toward the need for a liver transplant.
Not surprisingly, gastroenterology research indicates that the rise of NAFLD is related to the increase in Obesity and Type 2 diabetes in both adults and children. Further, even though you may not be overweight, obese or have Type 2 diabetes, you may be at risk for the disease because of your specific genetic makeup or metabolism.
Gastroenterologists in NYC
Drs. Jonathan Erber, MD and William Erber, MD specialize in Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endoscopy at their offices in Brooklyn, New York. Schedule a consultation with us today to learn more.