Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: an underrecognized cause of cryptogenic cirrhosis

JAMA. 2003 Jun 11;289(22):3000-4. doi: 10.1001/jama.289.22.3000.


Cryptogenic cirrhosis is a common cause of liver-related morbidity and mortality in the United States. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now recognized as the most common cause of cryptogenic cirrhosis. However, the diagnosis of cirrhosis in patients with NAFLD appears to be delayed compared with those with other chronic liver diseases and thus carries a higher mortality rate. This delay in diagnosis is illustrated in our case of a 53-year-old man who presented with hepatic hydrothorax and ascites, whose workup revealed cirrhosis due to NAFLD. Although a diagnosis of presumed NAFLD can be made noninvasively, a definitive diagnosis requires a liver biopsy specimen. A biopsy specimen is also important for detecting histologically advanced disease, which may be clinically silent and undetected by aminotransferases or diagnostic imaging. Although there are no proven treatments, recommendations for patients with NAFLD include avoidance of hepatotoxins and aggressive management of associated conditions, such as hypertriglyceridemia and type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Publication types

  • Case Reports
  • Clinical Conference

MeSH terms

  • Ascites / complications
  • Biopsy
  • Diabetes Complications
  • Fatty Liver* / complications
  • Fatty Liver* / diagnosis
  • Fatty Liver* / therapy
  • Humans
  • Hypertension, Portal / complications
  • Liver Cirrhosis / complications
  • Liver Transplantation
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Obesity / complications
  • Pleural Effusion / complications
  • Transaminases / blood
  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase / blood


  • gamma-Glutamyltransferase
  • Transaminases