Fatty Liver Disease: A Silent Killer


A 44 year old, senior executive noticed abdominal bloating and fullness with right side discomfort intermittently. Patient ignored the symptoms, considering it to be insignificant. Since the symptoms recurred for few weeks, he went to family physician he gave him some medication for symptom relief.

During the course of the week, his abdomen got bigger and he therefore consulted the specialist. Blood tests and USG abdomen was performed which confirmed presence of fatty liver. On further tests, it was revealed that he had severe fatty liver resulting in Liver cirrhosis whereby normal liver cells are replaced with scar tissue. He needed to take urgent steps to rectify the problem, as this would have led to complications. His family was extremely worried and remorseful, not only due to his professional career but also because his previous ultrasound performed 12 months ago had shown a fatty liver which he completely ignored as he had no symptoms.

     144 million people suffer from fatty liver disease.

Fatty liver disease is an epidemic in India with the commonest risk factors being obesity, diabetes, hypertension, high cholesterol or triglyceride, hypothyroidism and alcohol. Fatty Liver progresses if left untreated to steatohepatitis and Liver cirrhosis.

     1.5 million suffer from cirrhosis of the live

Liver cancer is the 4th commonest cause of cancer in the world. In early stage of fatty liver disease , there may be no symptoms and even Liver function tests may be normal, hence this condition is easily ignored . Symptoms usually occur in the advanced stage of liver disease once patient has developed Cirrhosis with decompensating, when patient may have jaundice, swelling of feet, abdomen, vomiting of blood or confusion, recurrent infections, easy bruising and fatigability. You don’t know you have it, until it is too late.

It is important to test the liver, even in the absence of symptoms due to the possibility of silent liver disease. Fatty liver when detected on an ultrasound should not be ignored. The tests include basic liver function tests, a Fibroscan (to help in the detection of liver scarring/fibrosis). Fibroscan is a non-invasive, painless test that does not need any preparation; it is performed by the bed side in clinic and takes 2-3 mins. Results are available immediately. The test can be repeated as required to monitor progress or recovery of liver condition.

The patient mentioned in this article, eventually recovered after modification of lifestyle measure, medications and regular follow up . Liver disease needs to be investigated in detail and given its due importance, even if there is only a slight abnormality on the blood tests or ultrasound.

    Hit early and Hit Hard.

Early detection will allow corrective medical measures to be implemented in timely fashion to prevent the life threatening complications associated with liver cirrhosis

   Sept 16th, 2012


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