NEW ORLEANS - There's a serious health condition you may not know you have. And it's rising in the U.S. along with weight and diabetes.
But now a young St. Bernard mother has hope, as New Orleans becomes a site for studying new medications.
Karla Carter is a model patient. As a diabetic, she has apps for food and exercise, printouts of charts and graphs of her sugar levels and insulin for her doctor. Her lifestyle is clean.
"I lost 10 pounds. I've started a gym in January. I go to the gym five days a week. I've changed my diet. My good carbs is (sic) all my vegetables. I cut out all the bad carbs," said Karla Carter, 35, who has an advanced stage of fatty liver disease.
It started with a scare, a big one, five years ago when this mother of four was only 30 years old.
"Oh my God, I'm going to need a transplant. What am I going to do?" she remembers thinking when she was told about her diagnosis by her doctor.
Karla was diagnosed with a dangerous case of fatty liver disease, something usually found by accident. Her liver was scarred. She was on her way to cirrhosis.
"That's one of the unfortunate things about liver disease, until it's very, very advanced, there's simply no symptoms often," said Dr. Nathan Shores, the Tulane Medical Director of Liver Transplantation.
It's not from alcohol. People at risk have diabetes or prediabetes, carry fat around the belly rather than hips and thighs. Diets high in refined sugar and fructose, are thought to contribute. Some people progress to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer.
"Even people who never get liver failure from fatty liver, we believe, are at increased risk for heart disease and stroke down the road," explained Dr. Shores.
But now Karla has new hope. She is in one of three worldwide or national fatty liver studies at Tulane – all of which are testing medications that could help.
"This was a very minor issue decades ago, the occasional patient who maybe had a genetic disposition. Now, everywhere you look. And once Hepatitis C is brought under control, this will become the dominant liver disease in the United States, maybe the world," Dr. Shores added.
An estimated 30 million Americans have fatty liver disease. If you are at risk, your doctor can check your liver numbers with a blood test.
To see if you qualify for the three studies at Tulane, call 504-988-5344. It is recommended that you first get a diagnosis from your doctor.