Usually, when people think about essential organs in their bodies, they often think about the brain or heart. What they forget to include is the liver, the second biggest organ after the skin.
The liver plays a significant role in maintaining proper nutrition and growth. It performs as many as 500 different functions, which speaks volumes about its importance in maintaining a healthy body. This statement is true for both, adults and kids.
The criticality of children liver health
For children's healthy growth, parents must pay close attention to kids' liver wellness. They must ensure that their liver remains in tip-top shape with the help of the right nutrition, herbs, and good lifestyle habits.
However, even though they try their best to keep it healthy, they start noticing some signs of an unhealthy liver . If they do not take these signs seriously, then sometimes it can lead to life-threatening and chronic liver disease.
This article outlines the growing health problem in children - Fatty Liver Disease.
First, we will understand what precisely nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is.
What is NAFLD?
When excess fat is stored in the liver, at that time, fatty liver disease happens. It is one of the most common types of liver disease, which affects 10% to 20% of the general pediatric population.
It is expected that within the next ten years, it will become the leading cause of liver failure and a trigger for pediatric liver transplant in the western world. Health professionals are still coming to terms about the condition, but they firmly believe that early recognition and treatment of the state is essential. If left untreated, then this condition can lead to severe diseases such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Generally, there are two types of fatty liver disease
1) Simple Fatty Liver Disease
In this type of disease, a child accumulates fat in the liver, but there is no irritation or cell damage.
2) Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis
In NASH, fat accumulates in the liver and leads to inflammation or cell damage. NASH is a severe condition that can lead to cirrhosis.
Causes of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
The exact causes of NAFLD are not known, but risk factors are as follows.
- Being overweight or obese, particularly around the waist
- Children suffering from diabetes and insulin resistance
- High levels of triglycerides (fat) in the blood
- Race and ethnicity. Usually, Native Americans, Hispanic, and Caucasians are at higher risk.
- Hepatitis C
- Rapid Weight loss
Signs and Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease is a silent liver disease because if children have it, it might not cause any symptoms. However, some children experience the following symptoms if they have NASH.
- Severe pain in the right upper part of the belly
- Long-lasting itching
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes
- Spiderlike blood vessels on the skin
If NASH turns into cirrhosis, then it could cause the following symptoms.
- Fluid retention
- Internal bleeding
- Muscle wasting
This cirrhosis can lead to liver failure, and in such a case, the need for pediatric liver transplant arises .
Fatty liver disease usually happens without causing any symptoms. Therefore, often, it is diagnosed during routine blood tests to check the health and function of the child's liver. If a child's doctor suspects fatty liver disease with abnormal test results, then they can suggest the following tests.
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, MRI scan
- Liver Biopsy
Treatment for NAFLD and NASH
Right now, there is only one way to treat fatty liver disease. The child will need to lose weight with the help of healthy eating and increased levels of physical activity. This disease can be reversible if it is in an early stage, and no scarring is found in the liver.
If a child has cirrhosis and other life-threatening diseases, then a doctor might recommend additional treatments including lifestyle changes, medications, or surgical transplant as a last resort.
Tips for Keeping a Child's Liver Healthy
- Encourage a child to follow a balanced diet that includes a low amount of saturated fats and refined sugars.
- Encourage a child to get involved in physical activity and outdoor play, as it will help in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight.
- One should limit the number and amount of meals eaten at restaurants by a child, as this food is usually high in fat.
- One should visit the dietitian to learn about healthy diet choices for a child and family.
In summary, a child must maintain a healthy lifestyle for a healthier tomorrow. Sometimes, merely improving the child's nutrition and physical activity habits can reverse the effects of fatty liver disease. However, if a child is suffering from NAFLD, it is a serious condition, because a child, who has it, is at high risk of developing several life-threating problems. So, one should pay close attention to it and make sure that the child gets proper treatment in the early stage itself.