What you don’t know about Liver Disease (but should)

Dr. Dina Halegoua-DeMarzio

Dr. Halegoua-DeMarzio

We recently spoke to Dina Halegoua-De Marzio, MD, Director of the Jefferson Fatty Liver Center, about liver disease and risk factors:

It is estimated that one in ten Americans is affected by liver disease, yet most of us know very little about its potentially lethal consequences. One form of liver disease, fatty liver, is among the most common reasons patients have abnormal liver blood tests. Here’s why: The liver is very active in handling fat. It takes lipoproteins (fats) from the blood, reworks them, and secretes them in a different form. Fatty liver can occur when the balance among these activities changes and fat droplets accumulate.

The most important factor in fatty liver is insulin resistance. The body’s sensitivity to insulin can go down with increasing weight, age, or related to a history of type-2 diabetes. In the body, sugar turns on a fat-production factory in the liver. The high fructose corn syrup found in our processed foods is the single biggest cause of fatty liver. This means soda-the number one source of calories in the American diet- is the leading cause of fatty liver.

About 10 to 20 percent of persons with fatty liver can develop a more serious form of fatty liver (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH) in which fat causes inflammation and fibrosis (scar tissue) in the liver. This form of fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis (the permanent hardening and shrinking of the liver) and liver failure. It is estimated that by the year 2020, fatty liver disease will be the leading reason for liver transplant in the United States.

5 Common Myths about Liver Disease

  1. Liver disease is a consequence of alcoholism – Alcohol is only one cause of over 100 forms of liver disease. People vary greatly in the way their liver reacts to alcohol and even those who are not alcoholics can develop alcohol-related liver disease due to the way alcohol is metabolized.
  2. A fatty liver is nothing to worry about – Although the initial stages of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can be reversed with lifestyle changes, advanced cases of fatty liver can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
  3. I should feel pain when my liver is unwell– The liver has no nerves and hence, an inflamed liver may not cause any discomfort at all. But as the inflammation continues to worsen, causing fibrosis (scarring) and developing into cirrhosis, only then you experience symptoms such as jaundice.
  4. Fatty liver only affects obese people- Thin people can also develop fatty liver. People can develop fatty liver from metabolic factors such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes, that cause fat deposits to build up in liver cells.
  5. A liver transplant is a cure for liver disease. Liver transplants are treatments of last resort, however, they are not cures. For lucky individuals, a complete liver transplant may be life-saving. Many liver diseases can recur if specific treatments are not taken.

In order to prevent complications of progressive liver disease, the Jefferson Fatty Liver Center provides patients with a coordinated, multi-specialty approach to provide excellent preventative care, management and treatment. If you have fatty liver disease and would like further evaluation please contact the Fatty Liver Center, 215-955-8900 or 1-800-JEFF-NOW.

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