HYDERABAD: Non-communicable diseases are on the rise in India. Apart from those that are commonly spoken about such as diabetes and hypertension, there is another disease slowly emerging as the next lifestyle disorder.
Called the Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or NAFLD, the condition affects about 9% to 32% of the people in India and the incidence is higher among obese and diabetic patients (statistics from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24772746). NAFLD is a silent disease and many live with it for years without any apparent symptoms. If not managed on time, it can progress and lead to more serious disease stages including advanced fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure or even liver cancer.
The condition and its symptoms
NAFLD represents a range of liver conditions affecting people who are obese and drink negligible or no alcohol. It is characterized by accumulation of fat in the liver cells. Ideally, a healthy liver should not contain any fat or perhaps a negligible percentage.
In the initial stages, the condition is referred to as simple fatty liver and with time can develop into inflammation causing extreme damage to the liver. The second stage or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is akin to alcoholic liver disease with the difference that those who are affected do not consume alcohol.
Fat accumulation in the liver affects how our body breaks down glucose and uses energy. The primary complication of NAFLD is cirrhosis, also called scarring (fibrosis) in the liver. Over time, as the liver tries to combat inflammation, parts of it get scarred, a process that takes up more and more of the liver tissue eventually.
Some symptoms of NAFLD that emerge in the long run include fatigue, weight loss or loss of appetite, weakness, nausea, confusion and impaired judgment, pain in the centre or right upper part of the abdomen below the ribs, an enlarged liver, and patchy or dark skin on the neck or underarm.
Diagnosis and treatment
NAFLD is diagnosed through a liver ultrasound and is categorized from grade one to three basis the progression. Liver function tests, fibroscan or biopsy can help assess the severity. People with certain risk factors such as obesity or diabetes or symptoms that may indicate problems with the liver should get these tests done. While treatment is the last key for liver diseases like NAFLD, if they progress to an advanced stage, it is imperative to make certain lifestyle changes at the outset.
Steps to slow down progression of disease
Eat a healthy plant-based diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats
If you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and get more exercise. If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising
Exercise most days of the week. Try to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity every day.
A healthy lifestyle is the mainstay of preventing any disease and this is true for NAFLD as well. The liver is responsible for filtering out and removing toxins from the body and given its important function, it is only prudent that one keeps the organ healthy through prevention
(The writer is director, medical services, at Medlife.com)