(HealthNewsDigest.com) – It’s time to recalibrate your knowledge about liver disease: it’s not simply a result of alcohol consumption. In fact, non-alcoholic faetty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common type of liver disease in the Western world — associated with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and other metabolic risk factors and directly related to too much fat in the liver cells. One of the biggest challenges for both physicians and patients is that NAFLD is asymptomatic.
The American Liver Foundation estimates that about 100 million Americans — over 30 percent of the U.S. population — have NAFLD. If this trend continues, NAFLD will become the main cause of liver transplants in the country, with the number of healthy livers available for transplants likely to decline. Children as young as five are also developing fatty liver disease through over consumption of sugars, sodas, fructose, corn syrup and lack of exercise.
Fortunately, there’s been growing adoption of new non-invasive screening methods that can detect NAFLD in the absence of indications or warning signs. This new painless approach can be performed in the doctor’s office as part of an annual exam, and is covered by Medicare, Medicaid and other insurance plans.
A 10-minute screening offers peace of mind and assurance that the liver is normal – while eliminating the need for a painful liver biopsy or further testing. Test scores also provide information the physician needs to make a referral to a specialist or recommend additional assessments. In fact, a yearly NAFLD screening is likely to become standard practice similar to a mammography or A1C blood sugar testing.
NAFLD is the result of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. In some cases, the fat in the liver cells builds to the point where the liver cells swell and eventually cause inflammation, without presenting symptoms. As the inflammation continues, over time it leads to a condition called “non-alcoholic steatohepatitis” (NASH).
Persistent inflammation may cause scar tissue to form in the liver, known as “fibrosis.” This leads to the most serious stage of the disease called “cirrhosis,” a scarring of the liver that can lead to liver failure – the number one reason for liver transplants for end stage liver disease or liver cancer.
About one in ten people with NAFLD will develop NASH and by 2020, liver scaring related to NASH may become the leading cause of liver transplantation in the United States. Because many patients show no symptoms, many physicians and clinicians do not screen for NASH, although expectations are that with new non-invasive screening devices, this will change.
Early Detection Is Critical
NAFLD is reversible if caught in the early stages and accompanied by lifestyle changes. Screening and early detection can help to prevent more serious conditions such as end-stage liver disease or liver cancer.
While most patients are asymptomatic, NAFLD is sometimes associated with fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss and abdominal pain. Increased blood enzymes may be associated with the disease but are not always a sign of liver disease.
Physicians can do a blood test to look for liver proteins released after a liver cell dies, which may suggest inflammation. But today’s gold standard is a liver sample, allowing doctors to see signs of scar tissue and ballooning under a microscope to determine how far the disease has progressed. This method, however, has been brought into question not only for its invasiveness, but also for its inaccuracy.
Source: Seeking Alpha
Noninvasive Screening Technology
Today, physicians can accurately check for NAFLD using a new painless technology – with no harmful radiation or X-rays. FibroScan®, for example, is one technique that can be used to measure the amount of liver stiffness and fat. It can be used to rule out the need for further assessment, like a painful liver biopsy, saving time and resources for people who don’t need to undergo additional assessment.
An interim look at an ongoing study of 10,000 patients with no history of liver disease was conducted in community-based endoscopy centers. Only 43 percent of patients evaluated had what is considered normal livers, while the remainder had some form of liver abnormality, ranging from elevated liver fat to liver fibrosis. This analysis of the first 367 patients suggests a significant rate of undiagnosed steatohepatitis liver disease in the population studied.
These results underscore the importance of identifying asymptomatic patients who may be at risk for advancing disease for earlier intervention. The high prevalence of disease, a dramatic rise from observations made in previous years, were indicative of the critical need for ongoing assessment.
NAFLD Prevention Check List:
During your next check-up, ask your personal doctor about new the non-invasive technology for evaluating the liver as a basic element of the physical exam.
Follow a nutritious diet: eliminate processed fructose and other added sugars from the diet, control blood sugar and triglycerides.
Maintain a healthy weight