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Millions of People Have This “Silent” Disease—and They Don’t Even Know It

liver damage

A whopping 16 million Americans live with a very scary disease right now and don’t even know it. Those with type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, and obesity have a higher risk of developing it. It’s tough to find and even harder to treat. But here’s the thing: Most people have never even heard of it.

This disease is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, also known as NASH for short.  It is a type of fatty liver disease that’s just as bad as the version alcoholics suffer from. While having a liver lined with fat is distressingly common—it affects some 64 million Americans—in most people, the fat buildup doesn’t trigger life-threatening health troubles. However, those who suffer from NASH have a  liver that becomes inflamed. As a result, this can lead to the permanent scarring known as cirrhosis and an increased risk for liver cancer. Some experts fear that NASH will surpass hepatitis infections as the biggest reason for liver transplants by 2020.

Why have doctors and patients ignored this dangerous disease for so long? “It’s because they didn’t see it,” Mark Pruzanski, CEO of Intercept Pharmaceuticals, a company that’s focused on treatments for liver diseases including NASH, told Business Insider.

Symptoms are scarcely seen in patients with early stages of NASH. To test for it, you need to get a liver biopsy, which requires removing cells from your liver using a small needle. Even then, it might be too late; the disease often leads to problems like liver failure, and no treatments currently exist.healthy lifestyleFortunately, there’s good news! You can prevent NASH right now by losing weight and maintaining a healthy weight and diet. Additionally, doctors and pharmaceutical companies are pounding the pavement to develop a specific treatment for this type of fatty liver disease. They currently have a test drug in the works, with an expected approval date in 2019.

If you’re a diabetic who needs to lose weight, you may have a higher risk for NASH. By keeping a healthy weight and living a healthy lifestyle that includes plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, and lots of exercises you can avoid suffering from this silent disease.