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Your Healthy Family: New, non-invasive tool to diagnose liver issues at NCH

Posted at 7:38 AM, Apr 05, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 07:36:47-04

NAPLES, Fla. — NCH Healthcare System has new technology to help diagnose liver issues in a completely non-invasive way.

There are many diseases that can cause cirrhosis, or scarring, of the liver.

“Excessive alcohol abuse, viral hepatitis, genetic causes, metabolic causes of liver disease," Dr. Mazen Albeldawi, the Head of Gastroenterology at NCH, told Fox 4.

He said the most common cause of liver issues in North America is Fatty Liver Disease.

Fatty Liver Disease is exactly what it sounds like; you have fat in your liver that affects how it functions. There are two types: alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is caused by heavy drinking, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Diet plays a key role in its development. Dr. Albeldawi said having an unhealthy die, can predispose you to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and obesity.

"Essentially, what's happened over time is we have become fatter as a nation. We've had worse dietary habits. We've developed diabetes," he said. "The number one cause of liver cirrhosis in North America is actually non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It's surpassed alcohol abuse."

It's also the number one cause of liver transplants in North America. Dr. Albeldawi said some signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include chronic fatigue, abdominal cramping, nausea and reduced appetite or weight loss.

"Liver disease is vastly under-diagnosed in United States. There's millions of people out there within our own population here in the U.S. that don't even know they have liver disease," he said.

Typically, to diagnose a liver issue, doctors would have to do a liver biopsy. That's when they take out a piece of your liver to test it. But NCH Healthcare now has a brand new tool to help doctors diagnose issues like fatty liver disease in a non-invasive way.

“This is a new tool that's been incorporated into the GI department, which is actually extremely important in the diagnoses of liver diseases," Dr. Mazen Albeldawi, the Head of Gastroenterology at NCH Healthcare System, said.

He said NCH got the Fibroscan in January of 2022. It allows Dr. Albeldawi and others within the Gastroenterology Department to determine the amount of scarring or fat on a patient's liver.

"Liver disease is vastly underdiagnosed in United States," he said. "There's millions of people out there within our own population here in the U.S. that don't even know they have liver disease."

Dr. Albeldawi said alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, viral hepatitis, and other genetic and metabolic issues can lead to fat or scarring on the liver. If left untreated, liver disease can lead to liver failure.

"So this is a nice non-invasive tool to be able to assess the status of someone's liver without needing a liver biopsy, which is invasive,” Dr. Albeldawi said.

The Fibroscan is used on patients who are referred for elevated liver enzymes or abnormal ultrasounds. The device uses waves to determine two measurements. A CAP score allows doctors to assess the degree of fatty change in a patient's liver. The VCTE score allows doctors to determine the degree of scarring or fibrosis in a patient's liver. The Fibroscan takes ten images, and averages ten of those scores to evaluate the liver.

“How much of a difference has it made having this kind of technology at NCH?” Fox 4 Morning News Anchor Lisa Greenberg asked Dr. Albeldawi.

"I think the big advantage is for our patients. Having liver biopsy is never an easy thing. It's an invasive procedure, it can cause pain at the incision site, there are potential complications associated with it. So this is a very nice, easy, quick, non-invasive tool to assess someone's liver and in a timely manner without any potential complications," he said.

He said the Fibroscan helps identify issues early on, so they're able to stop the progression of liver disease and prevent cirrhosis.