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Lean Patients With Fatty Liver Disease Are More Vulnerable, Study Finds

Update Date: May 05, 2014 11:51 AM EDT

Lean patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) have higher overall mortality rate than patients with NAFLD who are overweight or obese, according to a new study. 

The study found that lean patients (a body mass index less than 25) with NAFLD were more likely to be male, non-Caucasian and had lower rates of chronic conditions like diabetes and hypertension.

"Our comparison of lean patients and their overweight or obese counterparts gives us clues about risk factors for this disease that go beyond a person's weight," said Paul Angulo, MD, section chief of hepatology in the division of digestive diseases and nutrition at the University of Kentucky Medical Center, in the press release. "These findings have implications both for future research and for current standards of care. We must not assume that patients of relatively healthy weight can't have fatty liver disease."

The study examined more than 20 years' worth of clinical and laboratory data of more than 1,000 patents with biopsy-confirmed NAFLD. 

Researchers said the study was the first of its kind that details the characteristics of a large number of lean patients with NAFLD. 

"About 30 percent of the U.S. population suffers from NAFLD, and the prevalence of this condition is increasing. Although we often associate fatty liver disease with obese patients, these results suggest that possible signs of liver disease secondary to NAFLD in lean patients should be taken very seriously," said Dr. Angulo.

Researchers plan to expand their findings about this specific patient population by considering data that go beyond BMI. In future they also hope to include patients who are yet to have a liver biopsy. 

The study was presented at Digestive Disease Week® (DDW).

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