Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: an overview of prevalence, diagnosis, pathogenesis and treatment considerations.
Preiss D., Sattar N.
The global increase in the prevalence of obesity has heralded a rise in associated liver injury namely NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease). It is estimated that 20-30% of adult populations in developed countries have NAFLD and, although high quality data is currently lacking, the condition is clearly increasing in children also. NAFLD should be suspected in those with commonly available simple clinical signs and biochemistry consistent with insulin resistance. A small number of individuals with NAFLD, often considered a relatively benign condition, will progress to more severe stages of liver disease including NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) with or without fibrosis, cirrhosis and occasionally hepatocellular carcinoma. NAFLD is also commonly associated with an increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and treatable features of insulin resistance such as dyslipidaemia and dysglycaemia. Histological examination of liver tissue remains the only proven method to distinguish between simple steatosis and NASH, a condition far more likely to progress to cirrhosis. Identification of an imaging technique or non-invasive marker to achieve this distinction is therefore much sought after and would allow larger clinical trials and better clinical assessment. Case series and pilot studies of lifestyle advice, insulin sensitizers and other medications have shown improvements in liver histology and serum liver enzymes but robust randomized controlled studies are needed. Furthermore, the cost/benefit ratio of any new therapies, and any potential harms, must be evaluated carefully before being clinically advocated.