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Is fatty liver a rapidly growing epidemic?

By Dr. Nivedita Pandey in Gastroenterology, Hepatology & Endoscopy , Liver Transplant and Biliary Sciences

Nov 08 , 2020 | 2 min read

When excessive fat begins to cause damage to the liver, it leads to a condition called Non-Alcoholic Steato Hepatitis (NASH). In the early stages, it is reversible but once the condition worsens it often leads to progressive liver disease.

How can you identify the disease?

Dr. Nivedita Pandey says unfortunately, most patients do not have any symptoms of fatty liver only. Symptoms begin to get noticed once the liver disease progresses, these can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Confusion or encephalopathy
  • Bleeding with minor trauma

What Causes Fatty Liver?

The foremost factor is OBESITY.  India, with 41 million obese people, ranks third after the US and China in having the highest number of overweight people in the world. Surprisingly, Indian women are more likely to be obese as compared to their male counterparts.

Other factors are:

  • Diabetes and High cholesterol level
  • Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions — increased blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels — that occur together, increasing your risk of fatty liver.

Why is it a serious condition?

Lack of awareness about the seriousness of this condition is a major concern. Fatty liver, if undiagnosed and untreated can not only lead to progressive liver damage but can also cause Liver cancer.

When to see your doctor?

You must bring it to the medical attention of your doctor if you are diagnosed with fatty liver. If this is accompanied by liver test abnormalities you must see a liver specialist. It is usually diagnosed on routine ultrasound. A liver functions test also needs to be done to evaluate for any liver damage.

What are the grades of fatty liver?

Grade 1 fatty liver is an early stage that is usually reversible provided the risk factors mentioned above are modified. As the stage of fatty liver progresses, liver damage is seen.

What is the treatment?

  • The cornerstone of therapy is a lifestyle change.
  • Enhancing your diet and exercising can lead to weight loss.
  • Control of diabetes and high cholesterol is very important as well.
  • There are many drugs in the pipeline but none have been sufficiently studied to make a recommendation. Vitamin E has been shown to have some benefits.
  • If advanced liver disease is present transplant is a curative option from the hospitals that provide the best liver transplant in India.

Can fatty liver be prevented?

Yes, the Fatty liver is a disease of lifestyle. A holistic approach is required for prevention. Dietary change alone is not beneficial; it must be accompanied by exercise. Research shows that losing even 3-5% of the current weight can reduce the damage caused to the liver.