Non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis (NASH) is a disease in which fat accumulates in the liver, causing inflammation and irritation. It is also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, this condition can occur as early as childhood, especially in children who are overweight or obese. Children with metabolic disease and type II diabetes can also develop NASH. Fat builds in the liver slowly over time, allowing many children with fatty liver disease to go undiagnosed. In severe cases, however, the condition can progress to cause liver damage and the development of scar tissue (fibrosis). Fibrosis may eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure, requiring a liver transplant.
Did you know…
that the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is steadily increasing in children? These growing rates correlate to the current childhood obesity epidemic which is believed to be the the primary cause of increased fatty liver disease in children. Since approximately 30 percent of all children are overweight in the U.S., research indicates an estimated half of them may also have non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis.
Most children with non-alcoholic steato-hepatitis are either overweight or obese. Some develop NASH after gaining too much weight too quickly. The majority of children with fatty liver disease will also have other metabolic disorders, such as Type II diabetes or high cholesterol and triglycerides. Similar liver damage can also be seen in non-obese children with different liver diseases (Wilson’s disease, Lysosomal acid Lipase deficiency, etc).
A child with a fatty liver may not present with obvious symptoms – especially in the early stages of the disease. However, advanced stages of the disease may cause abdominal pain or fluid retention in the stomach and legs. Most children will also have high levels of liver enzymes in their blood, which may become obvious during routine lab work.
It is important to seek treatment from an experienced pediatric gastroenterologist, as untreated NASH increases the risk of liver failure, metabolic syndrome and type II diabetes. Treatment for NASH in pediatric patients varies widely depending on the patient and the stage of the disease. A doctor may use blood testing, liver imaging and biopsy to confirm diagnosis. Treatment is typically focused on weight management and lifestyle changes, such as decreased caloric intake, more frequent physical activity, and a healthy balanced diet low in sugar and processed foods. In some cases, additional medical interventions may be used to reduce fat in the liver.