A small proportion of lean patients develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). We aimed to report the histological picture of lean NAFLD in comparison to overweight and obese NAFLD patients. Biopsy and clinical data from 466 patients diagnosed with NAFLD were stratified to groups according to body mass index (BMI): lean (BMI ≤ 25.0 kg/m², n confirmed to be appropriate = 74), overweight (BMI > 25.0 ≤ 30.0 kg/m², n = 242) and obese (BMI > 30.0 kg/m², n = 150). Lean NAFLD patients had a higher rate of lobular inflammation compared to overweight patients (12/74; 16.2% vs. 19/242; 7.9%; p = 0.011) but were similar to obese patients (25/150; 16.7%). Ballooning was observed in fewer overweight patients (38/242; 15.7%) compared to lean (19/74; 25.7%; p = 0.014) and obese patients (38/150; 25.3%; p = 0.006). Overweight patients had a lower rate of portal and periportal fibrosis (32/242; 13.2%) than lean (19/74; 25.7%; p = 0.019) and obese patients (37/150; 24.7%; p = 0.016). The rate of cirrhosis was higher in lean patients (6/74; 8.1%) compared to overweight (4/242; 1.7%; p = 0.010) and obese patients (3/150; 2.0% p = 0.027). In total, 60/466; 12.9% patients were diagnosed with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The rate of NASH was higher in lean (14/74; 18.9% p = 0.01) and obese (26/150; 17.3%; p = 0.007) compared to overweight patients (20/242; 8.3%)). Among lean patients, fasting glucose, INR and use of thyroid hormone replacement therapy were independent predictors of NASH in a multivariate model. Lean NAFLD patients were characterized by a severe histological picture similar to obese patients but are more progressed compared to overweight patients. Fasting glucose, international normalized ratio (INR) and the use of thyroid hormone replacement may serve as indicators for NASH in lean patients.
Keywords: fatty liver; insulin resistance; metabolic syndrome; non-alcoholic; obesity.