SAN ANTONIO - UPDATE (9/27/19): A public call for a specific health screening has resulted in shocking results.
Fatty liver disease can be deadly, has no symptoms and it's rampant in San Antonio, yet many people haven't ever heard of it.
In July, KSAT interviewed a local doctor who is conducting studies to find a treatment. His team has been giving free scans since April, and when the KSAT story aired, almost 400 viewers called to participate.
Since then, the tests have yielded astonishing results.
San Antonio has almost double the number of severe cases as other cities conducting similar studies.
"Of the almost 800 scans that we've done, 70% have livers that contain at least 67% fat. It's scary," said Dr. Sherwyn Schwartz, who is leading the study.
He said those who get the scans and do not have fatty livers can get peace of mind. Those who test positive for fatty liver have a chance to make changes and even participate in a study that could help treat them.
"If you get a study, everyone will get some type of therapy. The therapy, diet and exercise everybody's going to get, that's the number one thing to do, and then a certain percentage will get drugs. We're working on probably a half-dozen different drugs right now and more to come," Schwartz said.
The scan is for free, transportation is free and if you get into a study, your time is compensated.
To sign up for the scan, call 210-880-2279.
It's a deadly condition that's extremely common in San Antonio, but because fatty liver disease produces no symptoms, it often goes undiagnosed.
There are also no FDA approved drugs available to treat it.
It's such a big problem, a local doctor came out of retirement to help solve it.
"It's going to be the number one cause of liver transplantation in the United States surpassing Hepatitis C next year," said Metabolism and Endocrinology specialist, Dr. Sherwyn Swartz.
Dr. Swartz said people who are diabetic or even pre-diabetic are at risk of having a fatty liver.
"That's really prevalent in South Texas, San Antonio specifically, among Latinos. In San Antonio we have people who have the genetic trait. They don't exercise enough but they eat fatty foods," he said.
That causes fat to build throughout the liver.
"So you have a fatty liver, gets expanded, eventually it gets fibrotic or scarred, it gets smaller and smaller. If it gets small enough you eventually get liver failure," Dr. Swartz said.
The first problem is, there are no symptoms. So unless you get scanned, you may never know you have it.
You have to be proactive like Gloria Gomez, who has a family history of diabetes and gall bladder issues.
"My doctor told me, probably you have problems with your liver," she said as she sat in Dr. Swartz's office.
Thankfully, her scan showed a healthy liver but Dr. Swartz said that's rare in San Antonio.
He's used to seeing scans showing liver fat and scarring that top the charts.
Since April, Dr. Swartz and his technician Jenevieve Villarreal have screened about 300 San Antonio patients, and the numbers are unnerving.
"if you're pre-diabetic or diabetic we're finding 70 percent have significant amount of fat in the liver already," Dr. Swartz said.
Now, to the second problem: There are 48 drugs in development right now to treat the disease but none are FDA approved yet.
That's why Dr. Swartz came out of retirement. He saw the problem still looming, but believes a life-saving drug is around the corner.
He's now the senior researcher leading five studies, the first of which starts this week.
However, for those studies to be successful, he need patients to get tested, to see if they qualify.
"People will go in these studies and have a chance to get better. We're scanning people for free in San Antonio. We'll take as many people as they want," he said.
Swartz showed the test is almost identical to an ultrasound. It only takes a few minutes and patients can barely feel it.
When asked how many patients Swartz is able to take for the clinical studies, he said, "Unlimited. We're trying to scan 2,000 patients in the next couple years."
Not only are the screenings free, but they'll also provide transportation to and from the appointment.
You'll get a quick scan and if you qualify, you'll be able to take part in the studies, which include different treatment options.
Anyone interested can call 210-880-2279.
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