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Are Your Patients at Risk? Fatty Liver Disease is a Silent, Deadly Epidemic

If there ever was a more urgent time to talk to your patients about fatty liver disease that time is now.

While the headlines have been screaming about COVID-19, there is another epidemic that has been concealed in silence. That is, an epidemic of fatty liver disease.

Approximately 1 in 4 persons worldwide has fatty liver disease, the fastest growing and largest segment of chronic liver disease. By 2030, there will be more than 150 million people in the United States alone that have or are at risk of fatty liver disease, with the majority underdiagnosed.

Driven largely by the increasing prevalence of diabetes and obesity, fatty liver disease is a cause for great concern. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is an early-stage form of fatty liver disease that occurs when there is an accumulation of fat in the liver. NAFLD can progress to a more severe form of fatty liver disease called Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) characterized by inflammation and the formation of scar tissue.

Known as the silent killer, fatty liver disease shows no symptoms until your liver is severely damaged. Left untreated, the disease can lead to chronic illness, organ failure, cancer and ultimately death. Advanced disease will likely require a liver transplant, which poses a great financial burden for the patient and the healthcare system.

While fatty liver disease existed long before COVID-19, the year-long pandemic diet of comfort food and increased alcohol consumption has accelerated the risk of developing this disease, with obesity and diabetes as comorbidities. In fact, the pandemic has contributed to increased weight gain for 42 per cent of US adults, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association.

Making matters worse is low public and provider awareness of the disease, a lack of early screening to assess millions of people before the onset of advanced disease, and no available drug treatment.

It’s time to course-correct this emerging health crisis. As a provider, here are three things you can do to raise awareness of fatty liver disease among your patients.

  1. Reduce Your Patient’s Risk

Maintaining a healthy diet and weight are key in preventing and decreasing liver fat. Advise your patients to avoid foods that are processed, and high in saturated fat and sugar, and to engage in daily physical activity. With the advent of interventional digital weight loss tools, there are now additional resources available to support patients in achieving their health and wellness goals.

  1. Know the Signs & Symptoms

Fatty liver can be asymptomatic in the early stages. Although not all or any symptoms may be present early on, you and your patients should watch for signs of fatty liver that include fatigue, pain in the abdominal area, yellowing of eyes and skin, loss of appetite and nausea.

  1. Get Them Tested

The good news is that if detected early, fatty liver disease can be stopped from progressing and potentially reversed, protecting the health of the liver. Both the American College of Gastroenterology and American Diabetes Association recommend screening for those at high risk.

Offer your patients a blood or imaging test to educate them on their liver numbers (amount of liver fat and fibrosis). The introduction of new non-invasive tests like VelacurTM offer a fast, accurate and practical way to measure your patient’s liver health.

Here’s a great resource from the Global Liver Institute that you can share with your patients that covers all of the above and more.

It’s time to end the silence, so that millions of Americans can be aware that ‘if you take care of your liver, your liver will take care of you.’