Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a disease in which fat accumulates in the liver, causing inflammation and irritation. Known also as a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, this condition can occur as early as childhood, especially in children who are overweight or obese. Fat builds in the liver slowly over time, allowing many children with fatty liver disease to go undiagnosed. In severe cases, however, the condition can progress to cause liver damage and the development of scar tissue (fibrosis). Fibrosis may eventually lead to cirrhosis of the liver and liver failure, requiring a transplant.
Did you know…
that the prevalence of a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is steadily increasing in children? Currently, approximately 15 percent of all children develop NASH by the time they are adolescents. These growing rates correlate to the current childhood obesity epidemic, which is believed to be the primary cause of increased fatty liver disease in children. Since approximately 30 percent of all children are overweight in the U.S., research indicates an estimated half of them may also have non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the cause of pediatric non-alcoholic steatohepatitis?
Most children with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis are either overweight or obese. Some develop NASH after gaining too much weight too quickly. The majority of children with fatty liver disease will also have other co-occurring disorders, such as diabetes or high triglycerides.
What are the symptoms of NASH in children?
A child with a fatty liver may not present with obvious symptoms – especially in the early stages of the disease. However, advanced stages of the disease may cause abdominal pain or fluid retention in the stomach and legs. Most children will also have high levels of liver enzymes in their blood, which may become obvious during routine lab work.
What are the treatments for NASH?
It is important to seek treatment from an experienced pediatric gastroenterologist, as untreated NASH increases the risk of liver failure, heart attack, and stroke. Treatment for NASH in pediatric patients varies widely depending on the patient and the stage of the disease. A doctor may use blood testing, liver imaging scans, and biopsy to confirm a diagnosis. Treatment is typically focused on weight management and lifestyle changes, such as increased water intake, more frequent physical activity, and a balanced diet low in sugar and processed foods. In some cases, additional medical interventions may be used to reduce fat in the liver.