Doctors notice spurt in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

Emphasise timely check-ups as NAFLD shows no symptoms until liver is damaged

April 19, 2019 12:37 am | Updated 07:21 am IST - Mumbai

There has been a hike in cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) this year as compared to 2018. While no definite statistics are available yet, doctors say they are observing at least 10 to 12 new cases every month, with patients being across age groups. Fatty liver disease is a disorder that occurs due to excessive build-up of fat, which leads to scarring of the liver. April 19 is observed as World Liver Day.

“It is known as the silent killer, as it often displays no symptoms until the liver is damaged beyond repair,” Dr. Roy Patankar, gastroenterologist and director, Zen Hospital, said.

Doctors emphasised how timely health check-ups help detect NAFLD at an early stage. “Not all types of NAFLD are lethal, but they’re not benign either. Once detected, the patient should go through further tests to know if the liver is scarred or inflamed. Around 20% of liver inflammation cases have a chance of developing cirrhosis,” Dr. Aabha Nagral, liver specialist at Apollo and Jaslok hospitals, said.

NAFLD, which is considered to be genetic, but not a hereditary disease, comes quicker to those with metabolic syndrome. “The disease is part of the metabolic syndrome, which includes patients who are overweight, diabetic, and have hypertension, heart disease, cholesterol problems, thyroid, PCOD and sleep apnea,” Dr. Nagral said.

Talking about the treatment, she highlighted how important it is to have a strong hold over individual lifestyle habits. “The main treatment is to look after your lifestyle. If you improve your lifestyle with exercise and diet, that itself is helpful for NAFLD. Around 5% weight loss helps remove fat in the liver, and 10% will reduce the scarring,” Dr. Nagral said.

Doctors also revealed cases of hepatitis B and C that still continue to exist despite the increasing awareness and availability of treatment. “Hepatitis C affects 1% to 2% of India’s population. Treatment was difficult in the past, but new medicines available today are said to eliminate 95% of the virus from the body,” Dr. Samir Shah, hepatologist at Global Hospital, said.

Dr. Patankar said intravenous drug abuse is largely responsible for hepatitis C in Northeast India and Punjab. “The Punjab government has made hepatitis C drugs free of cost in government hospitals to bring the situation under control,” he said.

“By and large, the symptoms for these diseases are detected incidentally,” Dr. Samir said, adding symptoms such as water in the stomach, blood vomiting, and swelling of the feet are all detected when the liver is close to failure.

“You need to pick up on all these diseases when they’re silent,” he said.

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