New research supports early evaluation and prevention of advanced liver damage among at-risk patients
Atlantic Gastroenterology underscores the importance of early screening to our patients in Brooklyn, greater New York City, and the Tri-State Area. Furthermore, our team, led by board-certified gastroenterologist Dr. Alexander Shapsis, stays on the leading edge of research that supports proactive diagnoses, risk reduction and prevention, and early treatment of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and other conditions.
Notably, a study published in the November 1, 2022, issue of The Journal of Clinical Investigation demonstrates great promise for our ability to identify and prevent advanced fibrosis among first-degree relatives of those individuals with this form of liver damage. Fibrosis arises as the result of repetitive or chronic injury and inflammation. This damage causes scar tissue to build up in the organ. A progressive condition, liver fibrosis in its advanced stage is also referred to as “cirrhosis” and is characterized by permanent damage and can lead to liver failure.
This broad, international study looked at almost 400 close family members of patients whose NAFLD was marked by advanced scarring. These so-called “first-degree” relationships included siblings and children of patients in the United States and Finland.
Liver scarring was present in 15.6% of those study subjects with parents or siblings diagnosed with both NAFLD and advanced fibrosis. For comparison, researchers found advanced fibrosis among 5.9% of study subjects whose close relatives had NAFLD but did not have advanced fibrosis. For further comparison, advanced scarring was detected among just 1.3% of study subjects whose first-degree relatives were NAFLD-free.
As noted by researchers in the JCI article, these findings provide the science and systemic validation necessary for clinicians to make recommendations for periodic screening of severe scarring among close relatives of patients with advanced liver damage. Before this study, such scientific backbone was lacking when recommending proactive screening.
In fact, until now, many relatives of those with liver disease did not realize they were at increased risk of developing the condition themselves. As a “silent” killer, liver disease is often not detected until after it has progressed to the point where damage has been done, and noticeable symptoms arise. Since there are no obvious symptoms early on, the disease can progress unabated to cirrhosis.
Now, patients with familial risk factors for advanced liver problems can be identified and evaluated at earlier stages in the disease process. In turn, specialists like our own Dr. Shapsis can prevent the condition from progressing to cirrhosis, irreparable liver damage, and liver failure.
As a result of such findings, it is generally recommended that individuals whose blood relatives (siblings and parents) have NAFLD with advanced fibrosis be screened at around the age of 40 or 50. Furthermore, it has been found that changes in lifestyle and nutrition can modify many liver disease-related genes. So, at Atlantic Gastroenterology, we can also recommend behavioral, dietary, and like modifications to protect the health of those patients at risk of developing advanced fibrosis, such as cirrhosis.
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