CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting those who drink little to no alcohol. It is a build-up of extra fat in liver cells which causes the liver to swell and become damaged.
In the United States, it is the most common form of chronic liver disease, affecting about one-quarter of the population, according to the Mayo Clinic.
"There is no cure for this, and to be honest, not anybody really understands how this disease works," Dr. Gregg Silverman said. "That is, we know who tends to get it, that is obese people, people who are diabetic. It is not necessarily genetic, it's not necessarily a racially divided type of disease but we do know about a quarter of the United States has at least some of it."
Those who develop NAFLD may have little to no symptoms. If symptoms occur, they can include fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen.
"The problem is, you don't notice much of anything until you get really far into the disease," Silverman said. "You start getting fluid build up, typically in your abdomen, you can get some shortness of breath and abnormal veins in your chest wall. You can even get jaundice but up until that point you won't really know."
Silverman suggests everyone get routine blood tests to check for liver function due to the lack of symptoms of this disease.
"You have to go to your physician, you have to go to your health care provider and get some blood work and say, 'do I have fatty liver? Is there breakdown in my liver?' and then start some real potential processes to reverse things."
There are a few medicines out there being tested but doctors do not anticipate finding a cure for fatty liver disease anytime soon.
"Really, the best answer as we understand it is dietary discretion, that is lose weight, exercise at least five or six times a week and really control and be aggressive with your diabetes," Silverman said.
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