Rise in number of teens, young adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver

Published on Aug 17, 2022 10:44 PM IST

While the Class XI student is presently undergoing treatment, her treating doctor and other gastroenterologists have noted a sharp rise in the number of cases of fatty liver leading to liver cirrhosis among young adults

Dr Harshad Joshi, gastroenterologist and inflammatory bowel disease specialist, Masina Hospital, recently treated a 22-year-old from Byculla, for non-alcoholic fatty liver (Bloomberg)
Dr Harshad Joshi, gastroenterologist and inflammatory bowel disease specialist, Masina Hospital, recently treated a 22-year-old from Byculla, for non-alcoholic fatty liver (Bloomberg)
BySomita Pal

Mumbai When 16-year-old Sudha S, a Vile Parle resident, was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis (scarring because of fatty liver) recently, her parents were expectedly taken aback, as they associated fatty liver with excessive alcohol intake.

While the Class XI student is presently undergoing treatment, her treating doctor and other gastroenterologists have noted a sharp rise in the number of cases of fatty liver leading to liver cirrhosis among young adults. They unanimously place the blame on their lifestyles.

Dr Chetan Kalal, programme director of hepatology and transplant medicine, Nanavati Max Super Speciality Hospital, and also Sudha’s doctor, said 30 per cent of his OPD patients suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver. “Like Sudha, most of my patients are in the 20-40 age group, and they do not have specific symptoms. Sudha too had complaints of nausea and vomiting which were luckily investigated and the ailment detected in time. Other non-specific symptoms include loss of appetite and weakness,” he said.

Dr Harshad Joshi, gastroenterologist and inflammatory bowel disease specialist, Masina Hospital, recently treated a 22-year-old from Byculla, for non-alcoholic fatty liver. “A rise in the cases has been observed post the Covid-19 pandemic. The reason has been our sedentary lifestyle. At the time of recording the history of patients, a singular trait we notice is a heavy dependence on junk food with no exercise,” he said.

Dr Swapnil Sharma, liver transplant and hepato-pancreatico-biliary (HPB) surgeon, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital, Powai, noted that of all the liver related diseases, fatty liver hepatitis is rapidly on the rise. “Fat deposition in normal liver is called ‘fatty liver’. When there is swelling in a fatty liver, it is termed non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). If untreated, this gradually leads to scarring which may convert into cirrhosis of the liver,” he said, and added that NASH liver also tends to develop into liver cancer. “The reason for this is our unhealthy dietary pattern and sedentary lifestyle. If NASH is not managed in time, it may progress into irreversible liver cirrhosis, and the patient may need a liver transplant in the future.”

Dr Shankar Zanwar, gastroenterologist, Wockhardt Hospital-Mumbai Central, told HT, today most of the fatty liver cases are being picked up in the health check-ups. “At present, 20 per cent of the health check-ups throw up instances of fatty liver and since liver ailments have silent symptoms, some severe cases progress to advance liver disease as cirrhosis,” he said. He underlined that maintaining a healthy body weight and exercising regularly are the best ways to keep the liver fit.

“Weight loss is the only treatment. By losing three to five per cent weight, you lose fat. Five to seven per cent weight loss leads to reduction in inflammation while with more than ten per cent weight loss, a patient like Sudha can get rid of fibrosis or scarring of liver,” said Dr Kalal.

BOX

What is a fatty liver?

Fatty liver is a reversible condition where fat accumulates in liver cells. There are two kinds of fatty liver disease -- alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

While the former is caused due to excessive consumption of alcohol, the latter is caused because of obesity, excessive consumption of junk food and lack of exercise.

Why should we avoid NAFLD?

NAFLD may lead to serious complications if associated with inflammation and fibrosis. It can lead to a damage of liver tissue called liver cirrhosis and cause liver cancer in some cases.

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