UBC Faculty Research and Publications

The Epidemiology, Risk Profiling and Diagnostic Challenges of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Iqbal, Umair; Perumpail, Brandon J.; Akhtar, Daud; Kim, Donghee; Ahmed, Aijaz


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) encompasses a wide spectrum of liver damage from the more prevalent (75%–80%) and nonprogressive nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) category to its less common and more ominous subset, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NAFLD is now the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the developed world and is a leading indication for liver transplantation in United States (US). The global prevalence of NAFLD is estimated to be 25%, with the lowest prevalence in Africa (13.5%) and highest in the Middle East (31.8%) and South America (30.4%). The increasing incidence of NAFLD has been associated with the global obesity epidemic and manifestation of metabolic complications, including hypertension, diabetes, and dyslipidemia. The rapidly rising healthcare and economic burdens of NAFLD warrant institution of preventative and treatment measures in the high-risk sub-populations in an effort to reduce the morbidity and mortality associated with NAFLD. Genetic, demographic, clinical, and environmental factors may play a role in the pathogenesis of NAFLD. While NAFLD has been linked with various genetic variants, including PNPLA-3, TM6SF2, and FDFT1, environmental factors may predispose individuals to NAFLD as well. NAFLD is more common in older age groups and in men. With regards to ethnicity, in the US, Hispanics have the highest prevalence of NAFLD, followed by Caucasians and then African-Americans. NAFLD is frequently associated with the components of metabolic syndrome, such as type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM), obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Several studies have shown that the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, weight loss, and pro-active management of individual components of metabolic syndrome can help to prevent, retard or reverse NAFLD-related liver damage. Independently, NAFLD increases the risk of premature cardiovascular disease and associated mortality. For this reason, a case can be made for screening of NAFLD to facilitate early diagnosis and to prevent the hepatic and extra-hepatic complications in high risk sub-populations with morbid obesity, diabetes, and other metabolic risk factors.

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