But you’ve probably never heard of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
This is now a main reason for liver transplants in America.
“The liver is a remarkable organ,” quipped Rohit Soans, bariatric surgeon at Temple Health.
In fact, the liver makes clotting factors for blood, sugar, fats and processes drugs.
However, up to one in three Americans has a condition called NAFLD – Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
It often occurs at the same time as metabolic syndrome….
“Obese patients, patients with hypertension, patients with type 2 diabetes, patients with high lipid and cholesterol levels,” says Dr. Lee Peng, liver specialist at Temple Health.
Dr. Peng says fat accumulation can cause inflammation.
“It can lead to liver scarring and what we call liver fibrosis,” he notes, adding, “If the inflammation and scarring is long-standing, severe, it can lead to permanent liver damage. “
Driven by the obesity epidemic, fatty liver disease is rapidly becoming a common reason for liver transplantation.
Dr Peng says the disease rarely causes symptoms, is usually undetected during annual checkups and –
“Unfortunately, there are no FDA-approved drugs for the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” he says. “We rely heavily on lifestyle changes.”
Thus, patients are encouraged to lose weight with exercise and a healthy diet.
And many are referred to the bariatric surgeon, Dr. Soans.
He says patients rarely realize the dangers of excess weight to the liver – or the difference bariatric surgery can make.
“When you start losing weight, one of the first places you’ll lose weight is going to be your liver,” says Dr. Soans.
And reducing the liver by losing weight before an operation helps in another way.
“This left lobe of the liver sits just above the stomach. When it gets smaller, our patients can have safer and more efficient surgery because our visualization as surgeons is much better,” adds Dr Soans.
Treating obesity before cirrhosis develops is key to reversing fatty liver disease.
“Older patients, I would say, who have had obesity for longer, can suffer some of the worst consequences in terms of liver problems,” notes Dr. Soans.
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