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NAFLD-related mortality: simple hepatic steatosis is not as ‘benign’ as thought
  1. Herbert Tilg1,
  2. Giovanni Targher2
  1. 1 Department of Internal Medicine I, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Medical University Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria
  2. 2 Endocrinology and Metabolism, University of Verona, Ospedale Civile Maggiore, Verona, Italy
  1. Correspondence to Professor Herbert Tilg, Department of Internal Medicine I, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Endocrinology & Metabolism, Medical University Innsbruck, Innsbruck 6020, Austria; herbert.tilg{at}

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Is life worth living? It all depends on the liver’ (American philosopher William James [1842—1910])

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is currently the most frequent global liver disease.1 Disease presentation includes various clinical phenotypes ranging from simple steatosis (non-alcoholic fatty liver to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis without inflammation, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. In the majority of NAFLD patients, liver histology is characterised by simple steatosis, whereas up to 30% of patients exhibits liver inflammation ± fibrosis. Several cohort studies have suggested that NAFLD-related mortality is mainly due to cardiovascular diseases, extrahepatic cancers and liver-related complications. Furthermore, whereas prognosis of simple steatosis is generally considered rather ‘benign’, various studies from the past years have supported the notion that not necroinflammation but stage of fibrosis drives long-term prognosis and mortality.2 3 A recent meta-analysis of 13 studies (including a total of 4428 patients) reported that NAFLD-related fibrosis correlated with risk of mortality and liver-related morbidity.4 Stage of fibrosis was highly predictive for all-cause mortality, whereas NASH and simple steatosis were not prognostically relevant.4 Bridging fibrosis as suggested from another multicentre study was associated predominantly with extrahepatic cancers.5 A recent study from the USA showed that NAFLD contributed to ~10% of all-cause mortality and >30% of liver disease-related and diabetes-related deaths, thus further supporting that NAFLD-related mortality is highly …

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  • Contributors HT and GT wrote the commentary.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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