Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)

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What is NASH?

There are two categories of disease under the diagnosis of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The first involves a buildup of fat in the liver that causes no real symptoms and has no accompanying inflammation. Often, this type is diagnosed when other tests are being performed. If this condition is affecting your health, your doctor will discuss with you the steps you can take to protect your liver from further damage. This type of NAFLD is considered benign, but it does have the potential to progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

The second is the more serious condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. It is also characterized by the buildup of fat in the liver that is accompanied by inflammation. NASH is often found in patients who are overweight, have diabetes or high blood sugar, and/or have high cholesterol. Without proper care and management, NASH can impair liver function and lead to other health complications.

NASH is often diagnosed by gastroenterologists or hepatologists who may partner with other medical specialists to provide comprehensive care. To learn more about NASH and the treatment options for this disease, please contact a GI Alliance office in your community.

What are the symptoms of NASH?

Most patients who have non-alcoholic steatohepatitis live their lives without developing any symptoms. NASH can, at times, cause scarring of the liver, known as cirrhosis. If symptoms of NASH do occur, they could include:

  • Pain or aching in the upper right portion of the abdomen
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Unintentional weight loss

If you have been diagnosed with NASH and begin to have trouble breathing, swelling in your legs, or are unusually tired, contact your doctor immediately. The specialists at GI Alliance can also help provide care.

Who is at risk for NASH?

The precise cause of NASH remains unknown. While it can affect younger individuals, the condition usually occurs in adults. Other risk factors for NASH include:

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High blood sugar
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Post-menopausal phase of life
  • Asian or Hispanic descent (but the condition can affect anyone)

How is NASH treated?

Left untreated, NASH can lead to other health concerns, including cirrhosis, liver cancer, and, ultimately, liver failure. When NASH is diagnosed, taking control of your weight, blood sugar, and cholesterol can have positive effects not only on your liver but, also, throughout your body.

Once diagnosed with NASH, you should regularly see your gastroenterologist/hepatologist in order to monitor your liver. Treatments for NASH may include a combination of eating a healthy diet, limiting sugar and sodium intake, and getting regular exercise. Part of the treatment process includes addressing any pre-existing conditions that are known to increase the risk or severity of NASH.

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What is the difference between NASH and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are both variations of fatty liver disease. NAFLD involves fat accumulation in the liver, yet with this variation, no damage has occurred to the liver. NASH is a type of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that is also characterized by the buildup of fat in the liver, but where liver inflammation and damage (including scarring) occur.

How can you identify the signs of NASH if it does not produce symptoms?

Even though there may be no observable symptoms of NASH, you may experience fatigue or pain around the liver (in the upper right side of the abdomen). Generally, the first sign of liver disease, such as NASH, is when cirrhosis occurs (scarring of the liver). Cirrhosis may cause certain symptoms you can watch for, including:

  • Swelling of the abdomen
  • Yellowish appearance to the skin and eyes
  • Itching
In the absence of care, what health complications can result with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis?

In the absence of treatment, NASH can lead to fibrosis and cirrhosis. Liver fibrosis is a condition that occurs when inflammation and scarring damage the liver. This scar tissue can replace healthy areas (cirrhosis), which might cause liver function to diminish or cease altogether. Without care, these conditions may cause liver cancer and failure.

Is it possible to reverse the effects of NASH?

Those who are in the initial stages of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and have not experienced extensive liver damage might be able to reverse the effects of the condition with lifestyle changes. These might involve healthy eating, exercise, and losing weight (if necessary). However, if long-term or more significant damage has occurred, the effects of the condition might not be reversible. Our digestive health physicians can offer more in-depth information and details surrounding this disease.

Improve the health of your liver

Finding the care you need to manage your liver health and reduce the effects of NASH can help improve your quality of life. At GI Alliance, our physicians are dedicated to placing your health and wellness first, and we take a patient-centric approach to providing individualized services. If you think you may have non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or have been diagnosed with the condition, please contact GI Alliance to locate a specialist in your area.

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