Reporting Dr. Maria Simbra
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Liver disease that can be seen in alcoholics is now being seen in children, but it’s not from alcohol.
It’s fatty liver disease, and in kids, it’s from obesity. One in 10 children is believed to have the condition.
About four in 10 obese kids have it. Something Dr. Dale King, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, sees more and more of these days.
“The thing that I find frightening about fatty liver is the unknowns,” says Dr. King. “Because it’s a relatively newly recognized condition, we don’t really know or have good ways to predict which kids will go on to develop major liver problems, and which kids aren’t.”
The liver is a vital organ in the right upper abdomen, and it’s important to digestion and processing nutrients. It’s normally pink and smooth. With fatty liver, it becomes yellow and enlarged.
“It basically gets overwhelmed and fat begins to accumulate in the liver,” explains Dr. King. “In some people, it begins to cause inflammation in the liver.”
And while it’s seen more rarely in normal weight children, the numbers are climbing even for them. But for other reasons, such as medications or inherited metabolic syndromes.
The disease has no symptoms and generally no screening.
Many obese children get routine blood tests because of associated diabetes and high cholesterol, and the condition can be picked up because of abnormal liver function seen on those tests.
There is no medicine for it. The main treatment is weight loss.
“They’re still obese if they lose seven to 10 percent, but that is enough usually to improve the fatty liver as far as we can measure right now,” says Dr. King.
A fatty liver may not cause any problems, but four percent may eventually have liver failure.
“What we are worried about is that with kids showing up with fatty liver at ages 12, 13, 14 are those kids going to need liver transplants when they’re 30 or 40?” says Dr. King.