The complexity of liver diseases is linked to the liver’s different functions. If the lungs are organs specialised in the exchange of gases between the atmosphere and the bloodstream, the liver cells multiply themselves into various functions: they produce bile to digest fats, accumulate glycogen as an energy reserve, filter the blood to expel toxic substances and destroy old blood cells, etc.
Liver cells can also accumulate too much fat. This phenomenon is called hepatic steatosis, or fatty liver, and is often a sign that something is wrong with the metabolism.
Hepatic steatosis is considered to exist when liver cells show a fat accumulation of more than 5%.
Hepatic steatosis is relatively frequent in about 25% of the population, especially in people that are obese, but varies with age, gender and ethnicity.
Hepatic steatosis is considered a metabolic disease that is often associated with obesity, diabetes mellitus and dyslipidaemia. It does not cause symptoms. People usually learn that they have excess fat in their liver after undergoing an ultrasound or for other reasons. Only when the problem is associated with inflammation of the liver and there are changes in the liver function do test results give a sign that something is wrong. It is, in fact, in this situation that the danger increases.
The presence of fat in the liver alone does not pose a risk. But when fat is associated with inflammation of the liver as in steatohepatitis, then there is a risk of inflammation degenerating into fibrosis, development of cirrhosis and even liver cancer.
Given the importance of an early diagnosis of hepatic steatosis and steatohepatitis, a new technology has recently emerged that allows for a quick (may take 10 minutes), painless and non-invasive diagnosis through Fibroscan® or Transient Hepatic Elastography.
The Fibroscan® is the equipment that evaluates the presence and level of fibrosis and steatosis in the liver, dispensing the need to undergo a biopsy thus avoiding risks or complications.
In recent years, this equipment has also become indispensable in the diagnosis, stratification and monitoring of groups of patients at risk. By quantifying the level of steatosis in obese and diabetic patients, a more accurate follow-up is possible, resulting in greater gains for the patient in terms of health and survival.
Data is obtained by a probe much like as in an ultrasound exam. The only sensation during the procedure will be a slight vibration on the skin at the tip of the probe.
For Hepatitis C patients, Fibroscan® can also determine the presence of liver fibrosis and thus help to obtain new modern drugs for its treatment.
The HPA Health Group is the only unit in the Algarve and in the Alentejo to have this technology in the Gastroenterology Unit of the HPA Gambelas, currently the best equipped service and accredited by the Joint Commission International.
Article submitted by HPA Group