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Metabolic & Fatty Liver Disease Clinic

Over the last few decades, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become a national health crisis. It's estimated that a third of people in the United States have some form of the disease, but a majority have never been diagnosed or treated. Although liver disease is often connected to alcohol, a severe type of fatty liver disease — called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) — is associated with obesity and can cause inflammation, scarring and irreversible liver damage. NASH-related cirrhosis and liver failure have become leading causes of liver transplant, and the numbers are only predicted to increase.

The University of Chicago Medicine's Metabolic and Fatty Liver Disease Clinic is the first program in Chicago and one of the first in the nation to bring together a team of specialists to pioneer the prevention and treatment of NAFLD and NASH in adults. Led by internationally renowned liver disease specialist, Michael Charlton, MBBS, these experts are developing ways to identify people at risk and make treatment much more predictable and effective than it has been so far.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which excess fat builds up in the liver due to a poor diet and an inactive lifestyle. Patients with a fast food diet —including a lot of saturated fats, cholesterol and fructose — typically have the most severe, progressive form of the disease.

Often presenting no obvious symptoms, NAFLD is difficult to detect. In fact, less than one percent of patients are properly diagnosed. It is typically a marker of a broader health concern that patients may not be aware of, such as hypertension, type 2 diabetes or lipid trouble.

Do Genetics Impact Your Risk of Developing Fatty Liver Disease?

There is one gene in particular, called PNPLA3 that is linked to increased risk for the disease. This gene is frequently found in people with a Hispanic and/or latino background.

Also, children born while a parent has fatty liver disease are more likely to develop early onset endocrine problems.

A Collaborative Treatment Strategy

We want to help patients at every stage of fatty liver disease. The goal for our treatment plans is to prevent the progression or recurrence of fat build up in the liver. Similar to other chronic conditions linked with obesity, the treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease requires diet and lifestyle changes and can take years to reverse the illness. We want to engage patients as early as possible so we can prevent any more liver damage.

We are the only place in Chicago with a team approach to managing fatty liver disease. Our clinic brings together the right groups of health care providers to offer the best possible treatment for our patients. We want to make our services as convenient as possible, especially for people who have to travel a long way or need to take time off work. In one visit, patients will meet with their entire care team, including a liver specialist (hepatologist), endocrinologist and nutritionist.

Clinical Trials & Technology

Our Center for Endoscopic Research and Therapeutics (CERT) program provides patients access to state-of-the-art imaging technology and non-invasive procedures. For patients who meet certain criteria, we participate in clinical studies for the most promising new therapies, such as an exciting new injectable treatment. While it is still in the developmental phase, it has the potential to take fat out of liver as well as decrease inflammation and scar tissue.

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Physicians: To refer a patient, please call the Referring Physician Access Line at 1-877-DOM-2730.