Traditionally, liver disease has often been linked to alcohol consumption. But of late, a new type of liver disease is on the rise in Singapore. It is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
If recent studies are any indication, NAFLD could well be affecting half of the adults here in Singapore.
Fatty liver disease in Singapore
According to The Straits Times, the study was conducted by SingHealth doctors. Professor Pierce Chow, the lead doctor in the study, said it probably means that the rate here could be higher than the Asian average of about 30 per cent of adults.
People with NAFLD also tend to have increased blood pressure and cholesterol levels. What makes this disease especially lethal is its lack of symptoms; because of which non alcoholic fatty liver disease is rarely discovered until its too late.
Image source: iStock
There seems to be increasing evidence of obesity being linked to fatty liver disease. The more obese a person, the greater are the chances of him having a fatty liver.
So it comes as no surprise that fatty liver disease is a growing concern in many developed countries that face increasing obesity. Indians seem to be more at risk from this disease.
If left untreated, NAFLD can progress to more advanced liver disease such as liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Who is at risk for fatty liver disease in Singapore?
You are at an increased risk of NAFLD if you:
- are obese or overweight – particularly if you have a lot of fat around your waist and abdomen.
- have type 2 diabetes
- have high blood pressure
- have high cholesterol
- are over the age of 50
Symptoms of NAFLD
There aren’t usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages. In the later stages, symptoms may include:
- a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy (over the lower right side of the ribs)
- fatigue (extreme tiredness)
- loss of appetite
If cirrhosis (the most advanced stage) develops, you can get more severe symptoms such as yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice), itchy skin, and swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy.
How NAFLD is diagnosed
NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out. The condition may also be spotted during an ultrasound scan of the tummy.
Managing fatty liver disease in Singapore
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is the main way of managing NAFLD. Especially with so many ‘fast’ food options and so little time. Here is what we should aim for:
- Lose weight – Aim for a BMI of 18.5-24.9
- Eat a healthy diet – Try to have a balanced diet high in fruits, vegetables, protein and carbohydrates, but low in fat, sugar and salt. Eating smaller portions of food can help too.
Image source: iStock
- Exercise regularly – aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, such as walking or cycling, a week. All types of exercise can help improve NAFLD, even if you don’t lose weight.
- Stop smoking – Doing so can help reduce your risk of problems such as heart attacks and strokes.
- Quit drinking – NAFLD isn’t caused by alcohol, but drinking may make the condition worse. It’s therefore advisable to cut down or stop drinking alcohol.
Treatment for fatty liver disease in Singapore
Currently, there is no medication that can treat NAFLD, but various medicines can be useful in managing the problems associated with the condition.
The doctor may recommend medication to treat high blood pressure, treat high cholesterol, treat type 2 diabetes and/or treat obesity.
If you develop severe cirrhosis and your liver stops working properly, you may need to get a liver transplant.
Dad donates liver to son
(Source: The Straits Times, Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease)
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