Have you ever gone for a routine physical exam and been told that your liver enzymes are elevated? Or perhaps you have “a little fat” in your liver?
If the answer is yes you may be among millions of Americans who suffer from fatty liver disease. This is commonly referred to as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). The incidence of NAFLD is increasing and has become the most common liver disorder in the US. In fact, chronic liver disease resulting from a fatty liver has emerged as the leading indication for liver transplantation in the US.
NAFLD is commonly diagnosed on routine lab tests and usually does not cause any symptoms. While the majority of patients will experience a mostly silent illness, it is estimated that approximately 10-20% of patients will progress to liver inflammation, which can then progress to chronic liver disease with cirrhosis (scarred and fibrotic liver). Once cirrhosis develops, there is a risk of progression to serious complications including life threatening gastrointestinal bleeding and cancer of the liver.
Who is at risk for developing fatty liver disease? Risk factors include age (>50), obesity (BMI > 30), Diabetes, elevated cholesterol/triglyceride levels, males, Hispanic origin, and some genetic factors. The diagnosis can often be made through a combination of blood tests and radiologic scans, but sometimes a liver biopsy may be needed to either diagnose or assess the degree of liver damage that may be present.
Currently there is no specific medical treatment for fatty liver disease. Some medications, coffee, or vitamins can be offered to attempt to reverse the liver damage process, but the mainstay of treatment is diet and weight loss. Studies have shown that weight loss and exercise can reverse some of the damage to the liver. A treatment plan can vary from one patient to another based on individual factors. It is therefore recommended to consult a Gastroenterologist and a Nutritionist with knowledge of this disease in order to individualize a treatment program based on each individual’s unique circumstances.
If you have been told you have a fatty liver or elevated liver enzymes, or simply feel you may be at risk for this disease, it is recommended to have regular follow up visits with your healthcare provider. With proper medical care and follow up NAFLD can be managed and have a favorable long term prognosis.
For a consultation please call our main office at 201-868-2849 or schedule an appointment on our online calendar by visiting our website gastrospecialistsnj.com.