Non-alcoholic fatty liver infiltration in children: an underdiagnosed evolving disease

Hormones (Athens). 2019 Sep;18(3):255-265. doi: 10.1007/s42000-019-00107-7. Epub 2019 May 28.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) constitutes the most common liver disease, one that is still underdiagnosed in pediatric populations (as well as in the general population), this due to the progressive increase in childhood obesity observed both in developed and developing countries during the last few decades. The pathophysiology of the disease has not been thoroughly clarified yet. The condition displays common pathways in adults and children; however, there are age-related differences. Unlike adults, children with NAFLD require extensive laboratory analysis, because underlying pathologies other than obesity may contribute to the evolution of the disease. Despite the presence of several serum markers and imaging techniques that contribute to NAFLD diagnosis, liver biopsy remains the gold standard diagnostic procedure. Early intervention and obesity prevention are mandatory, as NAFLD is reversible at an early stage. If left undiagnosed and untreated, NAFLD can progress to steatohepatitis (NASH) and subsequent liver failure, a potentially lethal complication. Of note, there are no treatment options when advanced liver fibrosis occurs. This review summarizes literature data on NAFLD in childhood indicating that this is an evolving disease and a significant component of the metabolic syndrome. Pediatricians should be aware of this entity, screening children at high risk and providing appropriate early management, in collaboration with pediatric subspecialists.

Keywords: Children; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease; Obesity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age of Onset
  • Biopsy
  • Child
  • Diagnostic Errors / statistics & numerical data
  • Disease Progression
  • Humans
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver / pathology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis
  • Liver Cirrhosis / epidemiology
  • Liver Cirrhosis / pathology
  • Mass Screening
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome / diagnosis
  • Metabolic Syndrome / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diagnosis*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / pathology*
  • Risk Factors