Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), an obesity-related form of hepatitis is on the rise across the United States, with experts estimating that nearly one in four Americans are currently living with the condition. Now, a recent study has revealed the tremendous clinical and economic burden of this disease, suggesting that this country is already spending up to $103 billion on NAFLD-related health issues every year, ScienceDaily reports.

Fatty liver disease, which is characterized by the buildup of fat in liver cells, is strongly associated with both obesity and diabetes. The condition causes few or no symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage and the liver is permanently damaged. Recently, researchers at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Virginia sought to assess the potential burden of the disease, estimating that NAFLD currently affects an estimated 64 million people across the United States.

The study also found that the annual direct medical cost for people living with fatty liver disease is $1,163 per patient in the United States; total U.S. health care spending on the disease amounts to nearly $103 billion a year.

“This study brings to the attention of policymakers, providers, pharmaceutical companies, and patients the critical importance of understanding NAFLD and establishing a policy for prevention, early detection and effective therapy,” wrote study author Zobair Younossi, MD, MPH, executive director of the Center for Liver Diseases at Inova Fairfax Hospital and vice president of research at Inova Health System in comments about the report.

Researchers also said the economic burden of NAFLD in this country is likely to be far higher after factoring in societal and indirect costs of the disease.