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Does your child have fatty liver disease? The doctor’s guide

A staggering 34 percent of obese children now suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) new research found. We consulted Dr Daniel Fenton for more information

Liver disease is not exactly something you would associate with children, right?

A randomized clinical study conducted at Emory University School of Medicine and the University of California San Diego School of Medicine, included 40 boys aged 11-16 with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The study found that a diet low in free sugars (those sugars added to foods and beverages and occurring naturally in fruit juices) resulted in significant improvement in NAFLD compared to a usual diet.

According to an article published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now the most prevalent form of chronic liver disease, affecting 10 to 20 per cent of children and 50 to 80 per cent of those who are obese.

The study predicted that within the next decade, NAFLD will become the leading cause of liver failure and lead to liver transplants in children and adolescents. Terrifying.

NAFLD is the presence of excess fat in the liver, not caused by alcohol.

According to Harvard Health Publishing, NAFLD is the presence of fat in more than 5 per cent of liver cells. In addition, NAFLD increases your risk of heart disease and can lead to an inflamed liver.

 a child may complain of malaise, fatigue, or vague recurrent pain in the upper part of the tummy

Healthista spoke to Dr Daniel Fenton, Clinical Director at the Private GP Clinic, London Doctors Clinic, to gain a deeper insight on the disease and consulted him on ways to protect your child from NAFLD.

What causes NAFLD and what are the long term effects?

When fat accumulates within the cells of the liver, we refer to this process by the term steatosis. Over time, these fatty changes can contribute to long term liver damage or liver failure.

Newer studies are suggesting that fatty liver diseases are perhaps more common in the paediatric population that we may have thought.

One of the associated factors is thought to be a substantial increase in the rate of childhood obesity. Obesity is associated with the metabolic syndrome which is a combination of raised weight, insulin resistance and high level of fats in the blood stream.

However, obesity is not the only cause.

The process of collecting fats within the liver is complex and there are a number of inherited and genetic conditions which can also cause this process.

What signs and symptoms should a parent look out for?

The signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease are very non-specific. In some cases, a child may complain of malaise, fatigue, or vague recurrent pain in the upper part of the tummy.

Usually, the diagnosis is considered when an abnormality of liver tests is discovered whist investigating for abdominal pain, or when liver function tests are completed as part of investigation test for another matter.

These abnormal results will often lead to a liver ultrasound and subsequent diagnosis of a fatty liver disorder.

What to do if your child suffers from NAFLD

Given the association with weight or obesity and fatty liver disease, one of the key preventative measures that parents can take, is to ensure a healthy, well balanced diet for their children.

In children whom are overweight, weight loss and exercise are widely accepted as the first line of treatment for fatty liver disease.

Reduction in weight will help to reduce insulin resistance, lower cholesterol/fats in the blood and decrease the risk of type 2 diabetes, all of which have been implicated in the complex process of fat accumulation in the liver.

What tests and treatments are available?

If you are concerned about your child speak with your GP. It may be necessary to complete liver function blood tests check the liver enzymes.

If these prove to be abnormal, a liver ultrasound may be the next step, to look for evidence of fatty collections in the liver. There is a typical glowing white appearance that may be seen if this is the case.

The gold standard for diagnosis is a liver biopsy, (although this is rarely done in children unless absolutely necessary) this helps to determine why there is a collection of fat in the liver.

Related Healthista content:

What’s really causing your child’s stomach pain?

7 ways to prevent childhood obesity

From colic to heat rash – 7 reasons your baby is crying

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