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Fatty Liver Disease: Killer Disease that Is On the Rise

Rates of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are rising in the U.S. and this condition can progress to a deadly type. This condition, however, is preventable.

Patty Vila knows too well the deadly threat that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease poses: She lost her father to it. But she was still shocked to learn recently that she also has an early form of the disease.

“I felt sick one day and I went to the emergency room and I was referred to a gastroenterologist. Two weeks later, they called me with the results and told me I had fatty liver disease too. I couldn’t believe it,” Vila recalls.

But Vila, who is 47, is lucky. Unlike most people, she was diagnosed with the disease early enough to take steps to fight it, says Dr. Eugene Schiff, one of the nation’s foremost liver disease specialists.

“I would say that two-thirds of people who have this condition are unaware of it. Most people don’t feel sick so by the time they are diagnosed with it they are usually in big trouble,” says Schiff, a professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine and director of the Schiff Liver Center.

There are two types of this form of liver disease. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is a buildup of extra fat cells in the liver. This is the form that Vila has, along with an estimated 10 percent of children and at least 20 percent of Americans have fatty livers, which is the basis of NAFLD.

Having fatty liver disease itself doesn’t necessarily damage it, but in 10-20 percent of these cases (Schiff puts it at 25 percent), the fat infiltrates the liver, which leads to a progressive type of fatty liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH.

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