60% Malaysians at risk from fatty liver

PETALING JAYA: Some 60% of Malaysians are at risk of dying due to fatty liver.

According to Malaysian Liver Foundation (MLF) president Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican this is a worrying current scourge, a relatively new disease that could affect some 60% of the population who are either overweight or obese.

"Fatty liver tends to be more common in this group, although it can also occur in people with normal weight, especially if they have other associated diseases," he said, adding that fatty liver can lead to end stage liver disease or cancer.

He said even the Ministry of Health is concerned over this as many Malaysians are unaware of them having fatty liver.

"Many lives could be saved from prevention and early detection," said Dr Ismail.

He said MLF is fully aware of this emerging threat and was initiating a one-day symposium this Sunday at Dorsett Hotel in Subang for doctors to provide their patients with the latest information, proper treatment and advice.

Fatty liver usually refers to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) to distinguish it from fatty liver due to excessive alcohol consumption or other secondary causes.

It is increasingly recognised worldwide and is now the most common liver disorder in countries, where obesity, type 2 diabetes mellitus, dyslipidaemia and metabolic syndrome are common.

Dr Ismail said there is already a global concern regarding the increasing prevalence of obesity and fatty liver which has now taken centre stage since obesity is a common associated risk factor.

"Obesity has in fact become a major public health problem of the 21st Century due to people's increasing sedentary lifestyle and changing dietary pattern," he said, adding the occurrence of fatty liver is influenced by age, gender and ethnicity and most patients are diagnosed in their 40s or 50s.

He said older patients with fatty liver are likely to experience more severe disease with progression to advanced fibrosis and earlier deaths.

"Fatty liver was once thought to be a benign condition. However new studies have revealed that patients with fatty liver have increased overall mortality compared with matched control populations. The most common cause of death in patients with fatty liver is actually cardiovascular disease rather than liver-related complications," he added.

He also warned that patients with the more serious variety called Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) are likely to have long term complications such as cirrhosis, liver failure, hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and increase in liver-related mortality.

Dr Ismail said patients with fatty liver has no symptoms and those with NASH may complain of fatigue, malaise and vague right upper abdominal discomfort.