Tests for liver disease can be exponentially impactful for both your liver health and your overall health. Scans can help you reach a diagnosis, inform your treatment courses, and help you manage your progress over time. So how do you know when it’s time to get a liver scan?
At Kansas City Research Institute (KCRI), we specialize in leading diagnostics and treatments for moderate to severe liver conditions including fatty liver disease (FLD), non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), hepatitis B and C, and more.
Continue reading to learn about tests for liver disease and to help you determine if it’s time for you to get a liver scan. But first, everything you need to know about liver disease.
Liver disease: the facts, the signs, and the dangers
Fatty liver disease (FLD) refers to complications that arise from an excess of fat stored in the liver. FLD does not exclude liver damage as a result of alcohol abuse or excessive drinking. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is consistent with FDL in severity, but is not caused by drinking. A liver scan is the first step to seeking treatment for either. According to data from the Mayo Clinic, NAFLD affects about one quarter of the population in the U.S.
Symptoms of fatty liver disease are rare, as most people have no symptoms, but when they do present they include:
- Abdominal pain for a feeling of fullness in the upper right quadrant of the stomach
- Swollen abdomen and legs
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Persistent nausea
- Fatigue or weakness
While FLD can have associated symptoms, they most often do not present at all until your disease has progressed beyond reversal. That means you could be living with FLD and have no symptoms. A liver scan is a proactive approach among tests for liver disease that affords you options in your treatment, before it’s too late.
Risk factors associated with fatty liver disease
While it’s difficult to identify symptoms of fatty liver disease, there are clear risk factors that may increase your susceptibility.
Metabolic syndrome is a group of conditions that can be a risk factor for fatty liver disease, as well as a host of other pulmonary and cardiovascular conditions. Metabolic syndrome is diagnosed when three or more of the following are present in one patient:
- High blood glucose (sugar)
- Low levels of HDL cholesterol in the blood
- High levels of triglycerides in the blood
- Large waist circumference or “apple-shaped” body
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
It is important to note that each of the above conditions is a risk factor for fatty liver disease on it’s own, but your susceptibility dramatically increases when these conditions compound. For example, high blood sugar is dangerous, but when coupled with low levels of HDL, it puts you at a much higher risk for liver damage.
Underlying causes of metabolic syndrome include obesity, insulin resistance, physical inactivity, genetic factors, and increasing age.
Some healthy habits to dramatically reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome include losing weight, increasing your physical activity, and eating a heart-healthy diet that’s rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fish.
A liver scan can help you identify the effects that metabolic syndrome has on your liver tissue, insulin production, and more.
Insulin is what signals your liver and other cells to release the blood sugar it has created when your body needs it. With type 1 diabetes, your body loses the ability to produce insulin. With type 2 diabetes, your body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin. In both cases, your liver doesn’t receive the signal to release. The resulting surplus of blood sugar often leads to obesity and is the main correlator between diabetes and NAFLD.
A liver scan can help to determine whether NAFLD is also present in type 1 or 2 diabetes patients, as well as how to simultaneously treat both conditions.
Dangers of fatty liver disease if left untreated
The biggest danger surrounding fatty liver disease is its tendency to develop into more serious conditions, especially when left untreated. As fibrosis in the liver progresses, your risk intensifies for developing:
- Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)
- Liver cancer
- Decompensated liver disease or liver failure.
While these conditions can be identified and monitored with frequent liver scans, they cannot be reversed. Aside from medical trials, treatment for these conditions ultimately requires a liver transplant.
Protect your health with proactive liver scans
Severe liver issues like those listed above are preventable when identified early with a liver scan. The sooner your medical team is made aware of the issues, the sooner they can intervene with medications, treatments plans, or a medical trial.
Among tests for liver disease, a liver scan is a proactive assessment that can change the trajectory of your overall health.
Types of tests for liver disease: scans and more
Different types of liver tests and scans are used in different cases depending on the patient’s history, symptoms, and current treatments. Your medical provider will determine which method is appropriate for you.
The most common category in tests for liver disease are scans. Scans point to diagnosis and diagnoses point to treatment. A liver scan is your source of direction when it comes to managing your liver health. At KCRI, we use the leading technology in liver scans for our patients.
FibroScan is a non-invasive device used to assess liver health. It measures the degree of fibrosis, or scarring, on the liver that could be caused by a number of liver conditions.
The device measures fibrosis based on the “hardness,” or stiffness, of the liver using a probe similar to an ultrasound. This measurement is given in kPa, which is a unit of pressure. Once we determine the degree of fibrosis, we can recommend further testing, treatment options, clinical trials, and more.
FibroScan technology is fast and intuitive. The exam can be performed in-office by any medical professional in under 10 minutes, providing immediate results at the point of care.
FibroScan can be used to reach a diagnosis or measure the status of a multitude of conditions affecting the liver, including:
- Chronic Hepatitis B
- Chronic Hepatitis C
- Fatty Liver Disease (FLD)
- Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
- Liver failure
- Metabolic syndrome
- Autoimmune diseases
Other types of scans and tests for liver disease used to assess the liver include:
- CT Scan
- MRI Scan
- Blood testing
Interpreting the results of your tests for liver disease
When it comes to interpreting the results of your liver scan or tests for liver disease in Kansas City, you want a team of medical professionals who are trustworthy, transparent, and experts in their field.
At KCRI, we are on the cutting edge of liver disease diagnostics and treatment. When it comes to interpreting your liver scans, we relay important information in a way that is digestible and positioned toward improving your health.
It’s our job to correlate the results of your scans to the diagnosis and staging of your condition and give you relevant statistics like kPa in context. Transparency, results, and best opportunities for treatment—that is our mission.
Continued scans and testing after diagnosis
Continued testing and scanning of the liver after diagnosis is important for tracking the progress of your disease over time. Whether you’re making lifestyle changes, like increased activity or weight loss, or participating in treatment, like drug therapy or a medical trial, you will need recurring scans.
There is a strong correlation between weight loss and improved liver health for FLD patients. For more moderate cases, decreasing overall body weight by 10% is a significant treatment method. Patients treating their FLD or NAFLD with lifestyle change are typically recommended to scan or test about once a year.
Patients with advanced fibrosis or scarring are more likely to be a better candidate for a NAFLD clinical trial. Because the therapy used in the trial must also be closely monitored, trial patients are usually asked to scan or test two or three times a year depending on the treatment protocol.
Dr. Freilich and the KCRI difference
Dr. Bradley Freilich, the founder KCRI, is a widely published, board certified gastroenterologist and hepatologist specializing in fatty liver disease. He is passionate about offering resources and positive guidance for liver disease patients through the power of research.
With the help of his dedicated team, Dr. Freilich works to bring safe, reliable, and groundbreaking outpatient treatment opportunities to fatty liver patients from all over the Kansas City metro. That’s our specialty; that’s our mission.
Contact KCRI now for liver testing and scans in Kansas City
Professionals at KCRI are dedicated to helping our patients manage and improve their symptoms with leading research and technology.
If you are ready to learn more about tests for liver disease near you and how they can impact your health and wellness, contact Kansas City Research Institute today to speak to a medical professional.