KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Doctors and researchers at St. Luke’s Hospital are raising awareness about Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis, also known as NASH.
It is a form of fatty liver disease which occurs when it gets inflamed. Many people may not be familiar with the prevalent health condition, but experts say it is much more serious than people think and demands attention.
Experts predict NASH will increase by 63% over the next 20 years. Medical Director of Hepatology, Dr. Laura Alba, says the root cause is an unhealthy lifestyle.
“This is associated with diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and (being) overweight,” Alba said.
Alba says some people may be more genetically predisposed, but it is often the environmental triggers like poor eating habits and lack of exercise that leads to a diagnosis.
It can lead to inflammation, scarring or liver failure, but in serious cases, it can even cause strokes, heart attacks and certain types of cancer.
“That’s the problem with liver disease, by the time you have symptoms that might be too late. You might be having symptoms related to the complications of cirrhosis, but then you’re too advanced," Alba said.
Alba’s long-time patient, Steve Lack, recalls being diagnosed in 2016 during grad school. He was an otherwise healthy 23-year-old who was leading an active life.
“For a long time the fatty liver wasn’t a big deal, but as stress wears on you, you change your lifestyle," Lack said. "You don’t take care of yourself as well as you should, your mental health or whatever is going on, it can take a turn for the worst."
The stress of work, a divorce, and his general anxiety worsened his condition. By the time he moved to Kansas City and was referred to Alba, he had early-stage cirrhosis. Lack says it is a silent killer that needs preventive measures.
“With this disease, it is really taking care of your body, watching what you eat, making sure you get exercise, because that not only saves this silent disease, but a lot of other silent diseases. So it is a big deal,” Lack said.
Alba advises people to eat less meat, recommends they watch their portions and to eat more plant based proteins.
She is also joining the experts at St. Luke’s for clinical trials and research that may improve future treatments and outcomes for NASH patients.