Association between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and subclinical coronary atherosclerosis: An observational cohort study

J Hepatol. 2018 May;68(5):1018-1024. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.12.012. Epub 2017 Dec 20.


Background & aims: There are limited data on the association between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and subclinical coronary atherosclerosis. This study investigated the influence of NAFLD on subclinical coronary atherosclerosis as detected by coronary computed tomography angiography (CCTA) in an asymptomatic population.

Methods: A total of 5,121 consecutive asymptomatic individuals with no prior history of coronary artery disease or significant alcohol intake voluntarily underwent abdominal ultrasonography and CCTA as part of a general health examination. Fatty liver was assessed by ultrasonography examination. The fatty liver index and NAFLD fibrosis score were also calculated. Coronary atherosclerotic plaques on CCTA were evaluated. The association between NAFLD and subclinical coronary atherosclerosis was determined by logistic regression analysis.

Results: Of the study participants, 1,979 (38.6%) had ultrasonography-diagnosed NAFLD. After adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors, there were no statistically significant differences in the adjusted odds ratios of NAFLD for calcified plaque (1.03; 95% CI 0.89-1.20; p = 0.673) and mixed plaque (1.15; 95% CI 0.93-1.42; p = 0.214). However, adjusted odds ratios for any atherosclerotic plaque (1.18; 95% CI 1.03-1.35; p = 0.016) and non-calcified plaque (1.27; 95% CI 1.08-1.48; p = 0.003) were significantly higher in NAFLD. In addition, there was a significant association of fatty liver index ≥30 with non-calcified plaque (1.37; 95% CI 1.14-1.65; p = 0.001) and NAFLD fibrosis score ≥-1.455 with non-calcified plaque (1.20; 95% CI 1.08-1.42; p = 0.030).

Conclusions: In this large cross-sectional study of asymptomatic individuals undergoing CCTA, NAFLD was consistently associated with non-calcified plaque, suggesting an increased cardiovascular risk.

Lay summary: In asymptomatic individuals, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) was an independent risk factor for non-calcified plaque, which has been known as a vulnerable plaque associated with sudden and unexpected cardiac events. Therefore, appropriate medical therapy for NAFLD was required to reduce future cardiac events.

Keywords: Atherosclerosis; Coronary artery disease; Coronary computed tomography angiography; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Publication types

  • Observational Study

MeSH terms

  • Cohort Studies
  • Computed Tomography Angiography
  • Coronary Artery Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Coronary Artery Disease / etiology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diagnostic imaging
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / diagnostic imaging
  • Plaque, Atherosclerotic / etiology
  • Republic of Korea
  • Risk Factors
  • Ultrasonography
  • Vascular Calcification / diagnostic imaging
  • Vascular Calcification / etiology