Natural history of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: A prospective follow-up study with serial biopsies

Hepatol Commun. 2017 Dec 27;2(2):199-210. doi: 10.1002/hep4.1134. eCollection 2018 Feb.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most prevalent chronic liver disease in the world. The complete natural history of NAFLD is unknown because few high-quality follow-up studies have been conducted. Our aim was to find variables predicting disease severity through an extended follow-up with serial biopsies. In a prospective cohort study, 129 patients who enrolled between 1988 and 1993 were asked to participate in a follow-up study on two occasions; biochemical, clinical, and histologic data were documented. The mean time between biopsies was 13.7 (±1.7) and 9.3 (±1.0) years, respectively. At the end of the study period, 12 patients (9.3%) had developed end-stage liver disease and 34% had advanced fibrosis. Out of the 113 patients with baseline low fibrosis (<3), 16% developed advanced fibrosis. Fibrosis progression did not differ among the different stages of baseline fibrosis (P = 0.374). Fifty-six patients (43%) had isolated steatosis, of whom 9% developed advanced fibrosis (3 patients with biopsy-proven fibrosis stage F3-F4 and 2 patients with end-stage liver disease). Fibrosis stage, ballooning, and diabetes were more common in patients who developed end-stage liver disease; however, there were no baseline clinical, histologic, or biochemical variables that predicted clinical significant disease progression. Conclusion: NAFLD is a highly heterogeneous disease, and it is surprisingly hard to predict fibrosis progression. Given enough time, NAFLD seems to have a more dismal prognosis then previously reported, with 16% of patients with fibrosis stage <3 developing advanced fibrosis and 9.3% showing signs of end-stage liver disease. (Hepatology Communications 2018;2:199-210).