What is fatty liver disease?

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About fatty liver disease

The liver is one of our most vital organs: It processes everything we eat and drink. Children who are overweight or obese and who consume higher than average levels of sugar and fat will have increasing stores of fat in their liver, which ultimately damages the liver. This is known as fatty liver disease or nonalcoholic steteohepatitis.

What causes fatty liver disease?

This condition is a direct result of obesity. Because fat causes a chemical reaction, the oxidizing fat stores damage the liver.

How often does fatty liver disease occur?

Because of the childhood obesity epidemic, fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly common, affecting up to 10 percent of children. More than one third of American children are overweight or obese, and 20 percent of those children will develop fatty liver disease.

How does fatty liver disease develop?

This disease starts slowly and can take 20 to 30 years to progress to the point of liver failure.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

Your child may not initially show any obvious liver symptoms. But fatty liver disease is often associated with other complications of obesity, including type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol and cardiovascular risks such as stroke and heart attack.

Who is at risk of developing this condition?

Children who have a family history of type 2 diabetes or fatty liver disease are at higher risk of developing this disorder. Not all obese children will get fatty liver disease, but those who carry their weight around their waist are more likely to develop it.

Why is fatty liver disease a concern?

It’s important to take this diagnosis seriously and to be proactive to avoid liver complications later in life. Patients with fatty liver disease are at higher risk of premature death because of liver complications or cardiovascular problems. If untreated, this condition can eventually lead to liver failure and the need for a liver transplant.

How is fatty liver disease diagnosed/evaluated?

If your child is overweight or obese, the doctor will order blood tests to determine how well your child’s liver is functioning. Elevated levels of certain enzymes indicate liver damage. The doctor may also examine your child’s liver using abdominal ultrasound and biopsy. The only way to make a formal diagnosis of fatty liver disease is to do a biopsy so that samples of liver tissue can be analyzed in the lab, but doctors often start treatment before this point.

What is the treatment for fatty liver disease?

Getting your child to a healthy weight is the first and most important step. Your child’s medical team will recommend a diet and physical activity plan. Even if a child doesn’t lose weight, simply stabilizing his or her weight can help improve liver function. Sometimes medications are also used to manage this condition.

What happens after treatment?

Your child will still need to come into the clinic every three or four months so that the medical team can monitor your child’s liver disease and weight management efforts.

When should you contact a physician?

Talk to your pediatrician if you have concerns about your child’s weight. Your doctor can screen your child for fatty liver disease and other health problems associated with obesity.

What is the long-term outlook for liver disease?

This condition is treatable as long as your child maintains the necessary lifestyle changes. If untreated, your child’s liver damage could progress.

How do I live with liver disease?

It’s vital that you follow your doctor’s recommendations on lifestyle changes. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, including psychological support, if your child is struggling with the new routine.

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