Dr. Rashid Khan, a gastroenterologist/hepatologist with Houston Methodist Gastroenterology Associates in Baytown, hosts a seminar on the common but often misunderstood condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) on Thursday, Dec. 5 at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital.

NAFLD is used to describe a range of liver conditions affecting nearly 100 million people in the U.S. who drink little to no alcohol. The main characteristic of NAFLD is that too much fat is stored in liver cells, but it frequently has few warning signs or symptoms in its earliest stages. Left untreated, NAFLD may lead to very serious consequences.

The condition may be diagnosed in people of all ages, but it is especially prevalent in people in their 40s and 50s who are at high risk of heart disease due to the presence of risk factors like obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“The condition is also closely linked to a cluster of abnormalities called metabolic syndrome that include increased abdominal fat, poor ability to use the hormone insulin, high blood pressure and high blood levels of triglycerides,” Khan said. “Fatty liver is generally benign, but the development of cirrhosis is a possible consequence.”

Along with the potential risk of cirrhosis, Khan says NAFLD brings an increased risk of liver cancer and cardiovascular disease. There is also a link between chronic kidney disease and research indicates that many diabetic patients eventually develop NAFLD.

While many nonalcoholic fatty liver disease patients frequently experience no symptoms initially, when symptoms are present they may include enlarged liver, fatigue and pain in the upper right abdomen.

“Choosing a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise may be effective in lowering the risk of NAFLD,” Khan says. “The first line of treatment generally involves weight loss through eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly, although weight-loss surgery may be an option for those who are morbidly obese.”

Khan says while the cause of the condition is difficult to determine, knowing your risk is essential. “Because symptoms may not be present, regular screenings, including blood and liver enzyme and function tests, may be effective in detecting the disease in its earliest stages,” Khan said.

During the free seminar, held from 6 to 7:15 p.m. in the conference center classroom at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital, Khan will provide information on the possible causes, symptoms and treatment options. The seminar is held in association with the American Liver Foundation. To register, visit houstonmethodist.org/events, or call 281-428-2273.

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