It is estimated that 20% of those with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) also have NASH. There are four stages of NAFLD, and NASH is the halfway point to the last step, which is cirrhosis. The damage caused by cirrhosis is permanent and is not reversible. However, by seeking treatment early and making specific lifestyle changes, you can help prevent the disease progression and even reverse the early stages of NAFLD.
NASH and the Four Stages of NAFLD
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH is one of the four stages of NAFLD. NAFLD is the name for a wide variety of conditions that promote the build-up of fat within the liver cells. A normal, healthy liver should contain little or no fat. Most people with NAFLD have small amounts of fat in the liver, which doesn’t cause any issues.
NAFLD is similar to alcoholic liver disease, but the factors that cause it are things other than alcohol abuse. It is categorized into four stages. They are:
- Simple fatty liver (steatosis)– Excess fat builds up in liver cells but is typically harmless, and no symptoms develop. Most find out they have fatty liver by routine blood tests.
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)– Few people with a simple fatty liver will move on to this stage. The liver becomes inflamed from the liver cell damage. Dull, aching pain in the top right abdomen, can be felt.
- Fibrosis– The liver continues to function normally, but the persistent inflammation begins to scar the liver. This scarring causes fibrous tissue to form around the liver cells and blood vessels.
- Cirrhosis– This stage tends to occur around the age of 50-60 after many years of liver inflammation. It progresses slowly over the years, and eventually causes liver failure after it stops functioning. Symptoms include confusion, bloody stools, seizures, and vomiting blood.
Act Now to Avoid Cirrhosis Later
NASH is the more aggressive form of simple fatty liver. The inflammation damage caused by this stage plays an integral role in the development of cirrhosis later in life. Certain conditions like being overweight, having diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol can put you at a higher risk of developing NAFLD. Making lifestyle changes and seeking treatment in the early stages is essential in stopping the progression of the disease.
If caught in the early stages, NAFLD is reversible. Losing weight and exercising, managing chronic conditions (like diabetes), quitting smoking, and avoiding excessive alcohol can all help reduce the amount of fat in your liver.
Finding Treatments Through Clinical Trials
Currently, there are no FDA approved treatments for NASH. Clinical trials have the potential to make a change in the way we look at nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. New interventions and treatments are currently being investigated in clinical trials across the nation. If you or a loved one suffers from NASH, clinical trials may be an option. To learn more about our currently enrolling studies for NASH, call (210) 949-0807, or visit our website.