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July 15,2019
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What Parents Should Know About The Fatty Liver Diseases In Kids

There are numerous myths surrounding liver diseases in humans and the most common one being, “Only alcoholics get fatty liver diseases”. Nothing can be far from the truth. Children just like alcoholic adults are equally vulnerable to fatty liver diseases.

Fatty liver disease is primarily of two types: non-alcoholic fatty disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty disease. In the United States, nearly 80 million people (both children and adolescents) suffer from the non-alcoholic fatty disease. It is prevalent in India too as a recent survey of high school students in Delhi has revealed that over a fifth have NAFLD.

What Is Fatty Liver Disease In Kids

In kids, the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when there is an accumulation of excess fat deposits in the liver. These fat build-ups trigger an inflammatory process which then injures the liver cells. It can lead to scarring, a damage that is similar to the one which is caused by heavy alcohol consumption.
Typically, there are no visible symptoms of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If there is, it may include:

  •  Fatigue
  •  Enlarged liver
  •  Pain in the upper right abdomen
  •  Swelling in the belly

Children may also report irritability, headache and difficulty in concentrating. The more aggressive form of NAFLD is known as Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis ( NASH) which occurs when there is both build-up of fats and inflammation of the liver.

Causes Of Fatty Liver Disease In Kids

The most common reason for non-alcoholic fatty disease in children apart from genetics is obesity. As kids nowadays are glued to their smartphones and are hardly having any physical activity, the rate of weight gain is pretty fast. A large amount of junk food in their diet also results in the build-up of unhealthy fats.

In non-obese children, the accumulation of fats around the waist and abdominal region can be a good warning sign to watch out. Other causes of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include in kids include high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and abnormal levels of cholesterol. The common links of most of the causes of non-fatty liver disease are poor diet and an inactive lifestyle.

Why Should Parents Be Concerned About Fatty Disease

Most of the parents are aware that obesity can hamper heart health and also cause a condition such as type 2 diabetes. But only some of them have little clarity on the relation between obesity and liver disease.

Obesity contributes heavily to the build-up of fats in the liver, also causing a significant fluctuation of the cholesterol levels. Non-alcoholic fatty disease in children is dangerous since the aggravated forms of it ( like NASH) can even lead to liver cirrhosis.

Recently, Apollo Hospitals and the Inclen trust conducted a study on Delhi students, where they surveyed 961 children aged between 5 – 10, from 13 different private schools for NAFLD. The results were startling as 22% of the normal weight range and 45.6% of the overweight children had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

These statistics are alarming as they show the grave situation of the health of children. Hence proper steps are to be taken by the parents to keep their kids active and healthy.

How To Protect Your Child From Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

Changing the lifestyle of children has a massive role in preventing most of the diseases, which includes liver diseases too. Here are several ways on how you can keep your children immune from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

1) Help Them Quit Junk Foods

Unhealthy foods are unquestionably the most significant contributor to obesity. In this fast-paced world, parents often give their children ready-made meals for the sake of saving time. It gradually builds up fats within the child’s body, making them overweight within no time. These same fats slowly get accumulated around the liver too.

Junk food offers minimum nutritional value to your child and often contains saturated fat and sodium. Making them aware of the adverse impacts of these junk foods is a huge step in teaching healthy eating habits in them.

By introducing the following foods in their lunchbox, you can tremendously boost your child’s health:

  • Boiled Eggs
  • Fresh Fruits
  •  Nuts and Seeds
  •  Apples and Plums
  •  Yogurt

2) Motivate Your Child To Exercise

We are living in a generation where we travel in climate-controlled cars and live in climate-controlled environments. It can become the prime reason for laziness, in both adults as well as children. Lack of physical activity, coupled with huge consumption of junk foods is one of the leading causes of NAFLD in the kids. Here are some of the best ways how one can keep their children physically fit:

  • Emphasize the importance of team games like football and cricket to children. It will not only boost their physical health but also make them mentally sharper.
  •  Ensure that the kids have a reasonable amount of physical activity daily. It helps them burn all the excessive calories, keeping them in ideal shape.
  • Cycling is also one of the best techniques to improve the overall posture of the body. For going small distances, encourage your children to cycle or to go on foot.

3) Confirm That Your Child Isn’t At Risk For Prediabetes Or Type 2 Diabetes

Insulin, as we know, is a hormone that plays a vital role in regulating blood sugar levels in the body. When fat cells bump into too much sugar, they stop responding to insulin, making the pancreas produce more insulin. It gradually leads to NAFLD in the person. Hence it is essential to note that if children are prediabetic, the higher level of insulin might cause permanent liver damage. Reduce your child’s risk of Type 2 Diabetes at a very young age.

What If Your Child Is Experiencing A Liver Disease?

The treatment of a liver disease entirely depends on the causes of liver damage. There are three ways to cure liver failure in children.

1) By Monitoring

As the liver is capable of regenerating itself, monitoring the symptoms and giving the necessary treatment to child patients can quickly restore the natural health of the liver. Liver damages caused by viruses are easier to recover, provided the patient is having a healthy diet and enough physical exercise. Controlling the causes of the liver damage at an early stage also prevents further deterioration of the liver.

2) Through Medication

Medicines can cure liver failure in children if the damage is due to a cardiovascular condition. Some medications are able to fight the infections in the liver while some can clear away the excess fluid in the body lowering the risk of blood vessel breaking. There are also medicines that help child’s body to retrieve less harmful toxins inside.

3) Liver Transplantation

The most common reason for liver transplantation in children is a medical condition known as biliary atresia. When a child has biliary atresia, there is an obstruction of bile flow from liver to the gall bladder . This causes bile to be stuck in the liver, quickly causing scarring of liver cells (Cirrhosis) and ultimately, liver failure.
Liver transplantation is an operation that replaces a patient’s diseased liver with a whole or partially healthy liver from another person. This procedure also saves the lives of adults experiencing end-stage liver diseases.

The proper functioning of the liver is of vital importance to the child’s overall health. Parents should be the best guide for children in developing good eating habits and also in making them understand the value of playing. A disciplined and healthy lifestyle is the foundation of superior well being in children.

You can also Join Our TPAF Facebook Group – The Pravin Agarwal Foundation (TPAF) Support group, created to form a network of families/caregivers of children who suffer from Liver Disease. We would request to join the platform to share experiences & concerns, provide emotional & social support and encourage one another in this journey.

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