If your liver could talk, it would have a lot to say. It does many things, from storing glycogen, vitamins, and minerals to maintaining your metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates. Moderating your alcohol consumption can help reduce problems, but it doesn’t prevent it. You can still develop liver disease from your lifestyle choices and other medical conditions. There are many kinds of liver disease, but their diaries all follow a similar progression of damage. NASH is one of the complications.
What is NASH?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the general term for various levels of fatty liver disease where alcohol nor medications were not the cause. Around 34% of the general adult population in the United States is affected by NAFLD. NASH, or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, is a high-risk type of NAFLD where too much fat has accumulated in the liver and is causing inflammation and scarring.
Is your liver at risk?
Researchers are still determining the exact triggers for NASH. Some speculate it is hereditary. However, we do know of pre-existing conditions that would increase the likelihood of developing NASH.
Those who develop NASH may have:
- Heart disease
- High cholesterol or high triglyceride levels
- Insulin resistance
- Type 2 diabetes
Those with family members who have had NASH or NAFLD are at a greater risk. Though, NASH is not limited to adults. Children with obesity are also at risk, and it can lead to chronic liver disease.
How does your body react?
Symptoms of NASH vary, with some people feeling mild symptoms and others feeling no symptoms at all. Some may also experience fatigue or pain and discomfort in the upper right part of the abdomen. It can be hard to detect on your own, so it is often referred to as a “silent” disease because people are usually unaware they have an issue until the damage is more serious. Those who have NASH are at a greater risk of death from cardiovascular disease.
How is it diagnosed?
There are several options a healthcare provider may choose to help diagnose NASH. They will either use blood or liver tests or examine imaging tests of the liver for fat build-up. These tests do not confirm a diagnosis but show if you should be concerned. To be certain a person has NASH; they are traditionally expected to get a liver biopsy.
However, a liver biopsy is costly, invasive, and carries risks. South Texas Research Institute is currently offering a free alternative called a fibroscan on site. A fibroscan detects how much scarring is present in the liver. Formally called vibration-controlled transient elastography, it uses ultrasound technology to measure the density of the liver. It is a quick and painless 10-minute process. Based on the results of the fibroscan, research studies may be an option.
What are the available treatments?
One of the first suggestions many healthcare providers is to lose weight. Losing weight and monitoring your diet can slow the effects of fatty liver disease. Those who are considered overweight or obese may be asked to work towards and maintain a healthy weight. For example, a total body weight loss of 7-10% can positively affect an individual’s liver fat content and inflammation. Patients should also eat a diet low in carbohydrates but follow a sensible, nutritious diet overall.
If NASH advances to cirrhosis, medications and other medical procedures may be suggested. Though, this stage of liver disease can lead to liver failure and may require a transplant.
While there are no FDA-approved medications to treat NASH, studies at South Texas Research Institute are researching potential new options. Learn more by calling (956) 284-6353 or visiting our website to find more information.