Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which can lead to liver cirrhosis or cancer, on the rise in Singapore.
Liver conditions do not just affect
They can be borne from a
sedentary lifestyle and when too
much fat invades your liver.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
(NAFLD) is an umbrella
term for a range of liver conditions
from simple fat deposition
(non-alcoholic fatty liver) to liver
steatohepatitis, also known as
Nash) — which is what Punggol
East MP and Deputy Speaker
Charles Chong was diagnosed
with three years ago and had to
undergo a liver transplant for.
Globally, one in four adults
suffers from fatty liver disease.
In Singapore, there is a “significant
increase” in such cases,
according to a study published
online last December.
The study looked at Singapore General Hospital patients
who had surgery to remove their
gallbladder, an organ next to
the liver, for the periods 2001 to
2004 and 2011 to 2014.
From the pre-operative scans
of the earlier group of 127 patients,
40 per cent had NAFLD.
Ten years later, 57 per cent of
the 99 patients had it.
More patients in the latter
group also had high levels of
cholesterol — 46 per cent versus
19 per cent.
Almost half of the patients
in both groups had high blood
A fatty liver is defined as a fat
build-up — more than 5 per cent
of the liver’s total weight — in
This can affect the normal
liver function as the disease
progresses, said Dr Kam Juinn
Huar, a general surgery consultant
at Sengkang Health.
“Repeated liver inflammation
in Nash can progress to
scarring and hardening of liver
(cirrhosis) and eventually liver
function may be compromised if any. Some may require liver
biopsy,” he added.
But its silent nature — 80 per
cent of people with fatty liver
are unaware of their condition
— means it is often not discovered
until it is too late.
In its early stages, fatty liver
usually either does not cause
any symptoms, or shows up
through non-specific symptoms
like tiredness, upper abdominal
discomfort or nausea.
Only as it progresses to liver
cirrhosis do signs grow obvious,
such as yellow skin discolouration
due to jaundice.
Dr Kam said: “We see many
patients regularly who are referred
to us only after complications
have developed, such as liver cirrhosis or liver cancer.
“At that stage, surgery is more
often than not the only effective
There is currently no universally
accepted medication to
treat fatty liver.
The good news is, the progression
of NAFLD can be
slowed and is reversible when
detected in its early stages.
“Losing weight or maintaining
a healthy weight, a healthy
diet and lifestyle together with
regular exercise will help prevent
fatty liver,” said Dr Kam.
He added that it is also important
to treat and control
underlying conditions such as
diabetes, high cholesterol and
hypertension, and maintaining
a healthy body weight with appropriate
“NAFLD is a condition that is
more prevalent than most people
are aware of.
“The only way to avoid it is to
maintain a healthy lifestyle and
regular screening for high-risk
individuals,” he said.