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What is NASH and What Causes It?

image with icons showing causes of fatty liver disease | GI NorthA diagnosis of liver damage can come as something of a surprise, particular to those without a history of excess alcohol intake. While alcohol may be a well-known cause of liver disease, it is not the only one. Learning more about the sources of and treatments for fatty liver disease and steatohepatitis can help make facing and treating these conditions easier.

The many functions of the liver

The body’s largest internal organ, the liver sits in the upper right portion of the abdomen where it is mostly covered by the lower ribs. The functions of the liver are manifold and include vital processes related to the breakdown of toxins in the body. The liver also produces proteins needed for functions such as clotting and transport of nutrients in the blood. The production of bile to help digest fats and eliminate waste products is another important function of the liver.

Recognizing liver damage

Liver damage can include many signs and symptoms such as pain or tenderness in the right upper portion of the abdomen. Accumulation of waste products normally removed by the liver can lead to jaundice, a painless yellowing of the skin. Widespread itching can be one of the more distressing symptoms of liver damage, as it tends to be persistent and resistant to normal anti-itch therapies.

Not everyone with liver disease has apparent symptoms nor are these the earliest indicators of deteriorating liver function. Rather, blood tests to measure the level of liver-specific enzymes serve as an early and reliable measure of liver disease. Biopsy and ultrasound can also be important in determining the cause of liver function derangement.

NASH diagnosis and treatment

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a type of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver. In NASH, the fat in the liver has led to inflammation and liver cell damage. Left untreated, NASH can cause scar tissue formation, a condition referred to as fibrosis and that can lead to cirrhosis.

It has been estimated that about 5 percent of Americas have NASH. Prior NAFLD, a condition affecting between 10 and 45 percent of Americans, is an important risk for developing NASH. Other risk factors for NASH include central obesity, type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia, and metabolic syndrome.

Left untreated, NASH can result in severe and even irreversible liver damage. One of the most effective treatments for NASH is weight loss. Avoidance of liver-toxic substances such as alcohol and certain medications is also important during recovery from NASH. All the while, working closely with a healthcare professional to monitor liver function and disease regression is an indispensable part of disease management in NASH.

The road to recovery from NASH

Although intended to be informational, this article does not take the place of professional medical advice. Please call an M.D. in your area with any questions, or contact our staff at GI North to make an appointment with Dr. Cofrancesco or Dr. Quijano, who speaks fluent Spanish. Located in Cumming, GA; the GI North team serves the entire Atlanta metro area including Alpharetta, Roswell, Canton, and Suwanee. Set your mind at ease and find out today how GI North can get you and your liver on the road to better health.

© 2017 GI North Gastroenterology Services. All rights reserved.

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