Living with Fatty Liver Disease: Karen’s Story

She has dealt with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease almost as long as she has been in her 42-year nursing career. For 62-year-old Cle Elum resident, Karen Anne Anderson, RN, that means she has practiced what she preaches – being her own best health advocate – for more than four decades in her battle against non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

NASH is the most extreme form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which occurs when fat is deposited in the liver due to causes other than excessive alcohol use.

Karen was in her 20s when she initially noticed that something was wrong. Nausea and elevated liver enzymes led to gallbladder surgery in Puyallup. When her symptoms persisted, she was referred to Asma Siddique, MD, a member of the Liver Center of Excellence team at Virginia Mason.

Fatty liver lady

Karen Anderson with her daughter, Shiloh and husband, Chuck.

Upon assuming her care 10 years ago, Dr. Siddique ordered computed tomography (CT) scans and a liver biopsy. When the results were in, Karen was diagnosed with NASH-related cirrhosis (inflammation and scarring of the liver).

“Dr. Siddique’s comprehensive care has included ordering bloodwork and imaging, about every three to six months. She has also helped facilitate my participation in two clinical trials,” Karen remembers. “My other care includes periodic liver biopsies and help with lifestyle changes related to nutrition and exercise.”

When Karen is asked if she has advice for someone who might be at risk for NASH, she says, “I would tell them what I tell all patients – be proactive with your health, eat right, exercise regularly and listen to your body. If you are experiencing fatigue, nausea or discomfort in the lower, right area of your chest – where the liver is located – be sure to speak with your primary care provider about it.”

According to Dr. Siddique, people of Asian and Hispanic descent are at higher risk for the disease for reasons that are not clearly understood, but likely to include a combination of genetic, environmental and other factors.

It is difficult but possible to improve and even reverse NASH with lifestyle modifications such as diet, exercise, limiting alcohol use and treating risk factors like diabetes and cholesterol. If NASH is undiagnosed or untreated, the disease can progress to cirrhosis, which increases the risk of liver failure and liver cancer.

NASH is currently the second most common reason people require a liver transplant. “That is why it’s so important to not ignore non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” advises Dr. Siddique. “Thankfully, clinical research in the next four to five years will likely result in FDA approval of a drug combination to treat the disease.”


A version of this story also appears in the Virginia Mason Health System 2017 Annual Report. 

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