MURRAY, Utah (Intermountain Medical Center) -- Fatty liver disease, or NASH (Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis) is increasingly common around the world. In the United States, it's the most common form of chronic liver disease, impacting an estimated 80 to 100 million people. The problems start to occur when fat starts to build up in the liver, impacting its ability to perform its necessary functions.
Intermountain Medical Center was among a world-wide group of experts who met in Park City earlier this month to discuss new therapies and treatments for the disease, many of which look promising in reducing the fat that gets stored in the liver and thus preventing additional damage to the liver cells.
"NASH has recently surpassed hepatitis as the No. 1 reason a person is on the liver transplant waiting list," said Richard Gilroy, MD, hepatologist and director of the liver transplantation program at Intermountain Medical Center. "In Utah, NASH is seen in higher concentrations than other areas in the country, though research is underway to identify potential causes."
Many people have a build-up of fat in the liver, but when it starts to cause inflammation and damage cells, scarring occurs, which leads to cirrhosis of the body's second-largest organ.
Those impacted with fatty liver disease usually have no signs or symptoms until the disease is in more advanced stages. When symptoms are present, they I include an enlarged liver, fatigue and pain in the upper right abdomen. As the disease advances, symptoms may progress to abdominal swelling, enlarged spleen, red palms or a yellowing of the skin.
Risk factors of fatty liver disease include high cholesterol or triglycerides, metabolic syndrome, obesity, sleep apnea, type 2 diabetes, to name a few.
69-year-old Kay Radford from Mapleton had chronic liver disease and late stage scarring of the liver.
"it was slowing me down. My memory wasn't all there. When they said I had cirrhosis I said I don't drink."
Mapleton suffers from NASH or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Dr. Gilroy, "what that means is you get enough fat in your liver the liver cells blow up and explode and cells come in an mop it up. That causes the inflammation part of NASH."
Dr. Gilroy is dedicated in detecting the problems earlier.
One way is through the Fibroscan machine.
Dr. Gilroy, "we're doing a novel study here where who ever walks in to the room with the patient with cirrhosis related to NASH they also gets a Fibroscan. We discovered, so far, 4 patients who were partners who came and didn't know they have it."
Radford's condition was so bad she needed a liver transplant.
After 2 and a half years of waiting she got a new liver.
Radford, "I've got more energy, I'm better with walking. I'll be able to do more."
Dr. Gilroy says besides knowing the risk, patients need to change their habits.
"most importantly we need to change what we do, our diet and exercise and what we really need to do is drink coffee."
Dr. Gilroy even bought his department a coffee machine to encourage his patients and coworkers to drink coffee. He says studies have shown there are fewer cases of liver disease where patients drink coffee. He also recommends a mediterranean diet.
People who are concerned about their liver should speak with their primary care physician.
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