Fatty liver disease, or, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, is an illness that occurs when a person stores excess fat in the liver. It is one of the most common causes of liver disease among children.
There are two main types of fatty liver disease:
- Simple fatty liver disease or steatosis is when a child accumulates fat in the liver, but there is no cell damage or inflammation
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is when the fat accumulation in a child’s liver leads to cell damage and inflammation. This is a serious condition that can lead to liver failure and cirrhosis. It also increases the risk of developing liver cancer as an adult.
Causes of fatty liver disease
Dr Andrew Suleh, the Kenya Medical Association chairman from 2008-2012 and a renal physician, tweeted that fatty liver disease is becoming a common occurrence among children. He said the high consumption of auto-processed foods and sugars causes it.
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Research shows that lifestyle and diet choices can lead to fatty liver disease among children and teens. However, there aren’t enough studies to know the exact cause of fatty liver disease in children.
Conditions like obesity, type-2 diabetes, high lipid disorders, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, Hepatitis C, and rapid weight loss increase the likelihood of steatosis in children.
Symptoms of fatty liver disease
It doesn’t have many symptoms.
However, it can cause the following:
- Shortness of breath after exercise or physical activity
- Fatigue or weakness
When the child has a scan done, the following may indicate fatty liver disease:
- High levels of liver enzymes in the blood
- A liver or spleen that is larger than normal
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How is it diagnosed?
Ordinarily, a doctor will use medical history, physical examination, and blood tests. Children with obesity who have high levels of liver enzymes in the blood will have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
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Doctors can also use ultrasounds on the liver. They can also use FibroScan, which measures ultrasound waves through the liver to predict the amount of liver fat.
In addition, a needle biopsy can determine signs of fat or scarring in the liver.
Can it be treated?
The is no cure for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. You can only prevent it or reduce any adverse effects. Lifestyle changes can significantly improve the quality of life for children. Moreover, studies show that sedentary life and a diet of ultra-processed foods and sugars can also alter the shape of the heart.
The liver is capable of regenerating itself if the damage isn’t excessive. Changing the diet to healthier, balanced, nutrient-dense meals can help the liver recover. You can work with a nutritionist to design meal plans low in calories, processed sugars, and fats. Weight intervention is also more successful in children compared to adults.
Adding activity reduces the risk of metabolic syndrome and other lifestyle diseases such as type-2 diabetes, hypertension, and heart problems. Children respond better to exercise routines that are fun for them, such as cycling, aerobics, swimming, or professional sports. In extreme cases, weight loss surgery can be considered.
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