New Mexico residents might not be surprised that the percentage of Americans who are obese is predicted to increase from 33 to 50 percent by 2030. With that, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an increasing concern associated with obesity and diabetes. A progression of the disease, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, is also developing more often in patients.

As a chronic liver disease, NAFLD develops from an accumulation of excess fat in liver cells. However, this is not onset by alcohol consumption. Not treating the buildup of fat can progress to NASH, a more serious form of the disease. Patients with NASH suffer inflammation in the liver, which is damaging to its cells. Over a long period, this leads to scarring in the liver that causes other health problems that could prove fatal.

Scientists do not know the precise cause of NASH, but they do know that high blood pressure, high cholesterol, insulin resistance, obesity and type 2 diabetes are risk factors. Many patients with these risk factors probably have NASH but do not know it because their symptoms are minimal, or they may not experience symptoms. Medical researchers estimate that, among obese adults around the world, 20 percent have NASH and 75 percent have NAFLD. They also expect NASH to be the primary reason for liver transplants in the United States by 2020.The standard treatment for NASH includes eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly. No medicinal or procedural therapies are approved to treat the disease. However, people with NASH could enroll in clinical trials that study possible treatments.

Patients who are at a higher risk of NAFLD and NASH could talk to their doctors about being tested for the diseases. A failure to make a proper diagnosis could lead to a worsened condition. If this happens, the affected patient may want to meet with a medical malpractice attorney to see what recourse may be available.

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