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Why you may have a stealth liver disease and what to do about it

One in three adults have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease – often without knowing. Now we understand what causes this stealthy condition and how to reverse it

By Graham Lawton

8 April 2024

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Ana Yael

When I was at school, I contracted viral hepatitis, despite never having done any of the things – sharing needles, getting tattooed or having multiple sexual partners – that are the usual risk factors for the disease. My biology teacher took one look at my sick and jaundiced face and told me, sagely, that “the life depends on the liver”.

All I knew at the time was that life with a malfunctioning liver was pretty miserable. That, unfortunately, might now be the fate of an increasing number of people around the world. Liver diseases in general are on the rise, but one in particular is causing concern for doctors and researchers alike – and you have probably never even heard of it. More than a third of adults and around 13 per cent of children and adolescents are thought to have a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), among other names – a condition that, if undiagnosed and untreated, puts them on a trajectory towards liver failure and a host of other conditions.

Not me, surely? Don’t be complacent. Most people with NAFLD don’t know they have it, as the condition is largely asymptomatic and screening programmes almost non-existent. But a concerted effort to raise awareness is under way in the hope of averting a crisis. The bad news is that, on our current trajectory, more than half of the world’s adults will have NAFLD in their lifetime. The good news is that many of these people won’t experience severe disease, and the rest may be able to reverse the problem – but only if it is caught early enough.…

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