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Sharp Health News

Liver disease in the Hispanic community

May 11, 2017

Liver disease in the Hispanic community

Leer en español

Chronic liver disease is a leading cause of death in the Hispanic community. Addressing this alarming statistic, Dr. Julio Gutierrez, a liver disease specialist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center, shares the risk factors associated with liver disease and prevention options that at-risk communities should consider.

Liver disease includes a number of related health conditions, including hepatitis, cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Why are Hispanics more susceptible to liver disease?
Hispanics are 40 percent more likely to die from liver disease and cirrhosis than their Caucasian counterparts, mainly due to genetic factors. New research has shown that most of the variation can be traced to genetic differences that accelerate the rate of liver damage, which ultimately lead to cirrhosis.

What are the risk factors for liver disease?
Some risk factors are preventable and associated with lifestyle choices, including excessive alcohol use and chemicals such as anabolic steroids; however, liver disease can also be passed genetically or through infections like hepatitis C or B.

What causes liver disease?
The leading cause of cirrhosis in the United States is hepatitis C, a virus that infects the liver. Hispanics may be up to six times more likely to be infected with hepatitis C and up until 2013, the infection was difficult to treat. Now, with the arrival of a new class of medications known as direct-acting antivirals (DAAs), up to 95 percent of patients can be cured with all oral regimens that have low rates of side effects.

While major improvements have been made in viral hepatitis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) continues to be a major problem in the Hispanic community. Sometimes known as fatty liver disease, NAFLD is closely linked to obesity, metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. In Hispanics, this is likely worsened by the genetic differences that accelerate liver damage and distribute fat and inflammation to the liver, ultimately leading to cirrhosis.

When Hispanics have cirrhosis, they are almost three times more likely to develop liver cancer, and up to 34 percent less likely to receive cancer treatments that can slow the progression of the cancer. Hispanics are also less likely to receive a lifesaving liver transplantation in the United States compared to Caucasians when they need it.

How can we prevent liver disease?
Liver health can be improved by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising and following a nutritious diet. Individuals who are concerned about developing liver disease should consult their doctor for more information.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Gutierrez for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at erica.carlson@sharp.com.

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