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The University of Chicago Medicine's metabolic and fatty liver program brings together liver disease experts from multiple specialties to ensure our patients receive comprehensive care. We see patients with different types of metabolic liver diseases, with a specific focus on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and its risk factors, including diabetes, obesity and hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol).
We are the only place in Chicago that takes a team approach to managing fatty liver disease. Each member of our team participates in the evaluation and ongoing care of every patient. Fatty liver disease is typically linked with other obesity-related conditions. Depending on a patient’s specific needs, we work closely with UChicago Medicine's bariatric surgery team, bariatric endoscopy team and the Chicago Weight Management program to provide collaborative, all-encompassing care.
Although fatty liver disease is often connected to alcohol, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when excess fat builds up in the liver due to a poor diet and an inactive lifestyle. Patients with a fast food diet — including a lot of saturated fats, cholesterol and fructose — typically have the most progressive form of the disease. Often presenting no obvious symptoms, NAFLD is difficult to detect. In fact, less than one percent of patients are properly diagnosed. It is typically a marker of a broader health concern, such as hypertension, diabetes or lipid trouble.
Over the last few decades, fatty liver disease has become a national health crisis. It's estimated that more than a quarter of people in the United States have some form of the disease, but a majority have never been diagnosed or treated.
A severe type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) — is associated with obesity and can cause inflammation, scarring and irreversible liver damage. NASH-related cirrhosis and liver failure have become leading causes of liver transplant and the numbers are only predicted to increase.
Genetics can play a role in developing fatty liver disease. There is one gene in particular, PNPLA3, that is linked to increased risk for the disease. This gene is frequently found in people with a Hispanic and/or Latino background.
Also, children born while a parent has fatty liver disease are more likely to develop early onset endocrine problems.