FORT WORTH, TEXAS—Jenny Carillo is like a growing number of young American's--she's 23 and was diagnosed with fatty liver disease when she was 19.
"I guess it's how you're parents teach you to eat," Jenny said. "I guess I always ate what my dad ate."
Dr. Shahid Aziz is gastroenterologist at Fort Worth Digestive Associates where more than 25% of his liver patients have some stage of fatty liver disease.
In a one-year time span ending in March Dr. Aziz referred 11 patients for liver transplants--6 had fatty liver disease. He believes fatty liver disease will soon be the number one cause of liver transplants.
"It's dangerous because it is an insidious disease," Dr. Aziz said. "You don't have any symptoms and sometimes by the time the patient gets to me they have already had some problems along with fatty liver."
Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found that Hispanics are more likely to carry the gene variant PNPLA3 which is responsible for higher liver-fat content.
That combined with a high fat diet can create the perfect storm.
"Obviously," Dr. Aziz said. "You have provided the right environment for that gene to express the disease."
Dr. Aziz said patient education, diet modification and exercise can help reverse the disease but if it's caught too late--transplantation can become the only option.
Dr. Aziz says Jenny will likely have a liver biopsy to find out how much damage has been done and then probably have weight loss surgery to reverse the disease.
Jenny said she's already contacted her insurance company and is researching bariatric surgeons.
Jenny said her dad has also been diagnosed with fatty liver disease and she plans on making lifestyle changes to make sure her infant daughter Emily doesn't follow in their footsteps.
"That's why I'm trying to also lose weight so that I can teach her and he can actually see me and not just hear it from my lips," Jenny said.