Fatty Liver Calculator: Kids Fight Epidemic

A disease that used to only affect adult alcoholics is now plaguing kids. More than seven-million children in the U.S. are thought to have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and it can lead to serious health problems. But now researchers have developed a new way to calculate this disease.

Kimberly Rhodes looks like a typical kid but her health has kept her from living like one.

Kimberly told Ivanhoe, "I can't go to real school. I can't play sports. I'm not a normal 13-year-old."

When Kim was just four she found out she had fatty liver disease. Then "When I was like maybe 8, I was diagnosed with cirrhosis."

Stacey Rhodes, Kimberley's Mother said, "It was kind of a shock to hear a child can get something like that."

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease happens when the liver becomes bloated and infiltrated by fat cells. The condition is on the rise in kids.

Doctor Naim Alkhouri, MD, Director of the Metabolic Liver Disease Clinic of Cleveland Clinic Children's told Ivanhoe, "Unfortunately, up to 10-percent of kids in the United States may have fatty liver disease."

Because 17-percent of kids in the U.S. are obese and 17-percent are overweight, obesity is a big factor. Researchers predict that 50-percent of obese kids will develop fatty liver disease.

"Obesity has the same effect on the liver as alcohol basically" Doctor Alkhouri told Ivanhoe.

Until now, an invasive liver biopsy was the only way to determine just how severe the condition was. But doctors at the Cleveland Clinic have developed an online fatty liver disease calculator.

Plugging in blood liver enzymes and platelet counts into a mathematical equation gives doctors an idea of how advanced a patient's disease is.

"By applying this calculator, you can avoid liver biopsy in approximately 60-percent of kids" Doctor Alkhouri explained.   

Kim's disease has already progressed to cirrhosis so she will likely need a liver transplant in the coming years. She hopes one day she'll be able to do what other kids her age can.

 "I can go back to karate, maybe soccer" Kim told Ivanhoe.

Stacey said, "She never lets it get her down completely. She's always happy."

There does appear to be a genetic component to fatty liver disease. Certain ethnic groups, including Mexican-Americans, appear to be more susceptible. The condition is usually detected when other health problems such as diabetes or high cholesterol arise. The good news is fatty liver disease is reversible if it's not in an advanced stage.