People unaware of fatty liver disease could make the problem worse with holiday overindulgence
Many Americans are walking around with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and don’t even know it. Overindulgence in food and alcohol this holiday season could make the condition worse and possibly lead them straight to a heart disease and/or liver failure.
“Data has shown that nearly 30 million Americans have NAFLD. Many times it is missed until the person’s liver enzyme levels are high,” said Dr. Howard Monsour, chief of hepatology at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Patients can die from a heart attack or cirrhosis of the liver. It’s a serious condition that we have to get under control quickly in this country.”
NAFLD is fat inside the liver cells. Alcohol, drugs, obesity, lipid disorders and diabetes can all be causes. However, many with this condition suffer from Metabolic Syndrome, a constellation of factors which include a large waist circumference (men greater than 40 inches, women greater than 35 inches), high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance that heighten the risk of heart attack, stroke and type 2 diabetes.
Over time, a person might begin to experience fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite. Some people might also have pain in the center or right upper part of the belly. These symptoms might also get worse after heavy drinking.
“However, much like type 2 diabetes, NAFLD can be cured with proper diet and exercise,” Monsour said. “If you lose 12 percent of your current weight, no matter how much you weigh, you can eliminate fat from your liver.”
Monsour adds vigorous exercise, such as weight lifting, swimming, running or aerobics, between 75 and 150 minutes a week with a heart rate of 120 or above during the holiday season and beyond will help you tackle this problem. He suggests eating fruits and vegetables before attending a family function or holiday party will help you feel full and might keep you away from foods high in fat.
Between five and 20 percent of people with fatty liver will develop serious liver disease. Developing cirrhosis, fibrosis or liver cancer depends on whether the person has inflammation in the liver caused by the fat resulting in an inflammatory response called steatohepatitis. This often, but not always, causes liver enzyme elevation on routine blood tests.
“The key is to catch it early and man times it may not be discovered until a routine checkup,” Monsour said. “If you start to experience symptoms, see a doctor as soon as you can. Letting it go without evaluation can lead to a very difficult, unhealthy life.”