Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatty Liver Disease Rises with Obesity

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Fatty Liver Disease Rises with Obesity

Article excerpt

Renee Terney, who traveled to Erie last week to ride the slides at Splash Lagoon, has come a long way in the 2 1/2 years since she was struck by a form of liver disease that has quickly emerged as a public health threat and a challenge to transplant programs.

Blood work and other tests revealed that the Sheraden resident had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, an accumulation of fat in liver cells associated with poor diet, a sedentary lifestyle and obesity. The damage to Ms. Terney's liver was so extensive that she was near death at the time of her May 2013 transplant at Allegheny General Hospital.

Ms. Terney, now 48, lost 85 pounds during the ordeal. "My goal is not to put it back on," she said.

Like other chronic conditions and other liver ailments, non- alcoholic fatty liver disease can be a silent killer, with some patients experiencing no symptoms for years or longer.

Jose Oliva, medical director of Allegheny Health Network's liver transplantation program, said it's often discovered when routine blood work ordered by a primary-care physician reveals elevated levels of liver enzymes. He said follow-up tests, such as a CT scan or ultrasound, are used to confirm the diagnosis.

If caught early, exercise and improved diet can slow or reverse the disease. "It's behavior modification," Dr. Oliva said.

However, there are no medications to assist with treatment, and in the most severe and advanced cases, known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, scarring of the liver is identical to the damage caused by alcoholism.

Some of these patients -- who eventually experience symptoms such as belly pain, jaundice and swelling of the legs, as Ms. Terney did - - must pin their hope for survival on a transplant.

But livers are in short supply. "There aren't enough now as it is," and a rising tide of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will make matters worse, said Vinod Rustgi, medical director of liver transplantation for UPMC.

Of about 17,000 people on waiting lists nationwide, Dr. …

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