Patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in a prospective observational study had a twofold increase in cardiovascular events,.
At median follow-up of 41.4 months representing 3,044.4 person-years of observation in the Progression of Liver Damage and Cardiometabolic Disorders in NAFLD (PLINIO) study, 58 cardiovascular events (CVEs) were reported in 898 consecutive outpatients who were screened for liver steatosis by ultrasound. The annual rate of CVEs among 643 patients with NAFLD was 2.1%, compared with 1.0% among 255 patients without NAFLD, according to Francesco Baratta, MD, of Clinica Medica, Sapienza University of Rome, and colleagues. Their report is in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.
The difference did not meet a priori thresholds for statistical significance (P = .066), but became significant after exclusion of new-onset atrial fibrillation events (annual CVE rates of 1.9% vs. 0.7%; P = .034), and on multivariate analysis, age, male sex, and NAFLD were found to be independently associated with CVE occurrence (hazard ratios, 1.07, 3.20, and 2.73, respectively), the investigators found.
In NAFLD patients, a NAFLD fibrosis score (NFS) greater than 0.676 was significantly associated with CVEs after adjustment for comorbidities (HR, 2.29), and a Fibrosis-4 (FIB-4) score greater than 2.67, a history of cardiovascular disease, and metabolic syndrome predicted incident CVEs (HRs, 4.57, 2.95, and 2.30, respectively). The findings were similar after exclusion of new-onset atrial fibrillation from the composite endpoint (HRs, 2.42 and 4.00, respectively).
“Furthermore, when we analyzed only patients without CVEs at baseline, we found a similar association between liver fibrosis and CVEs,” the researchers wrote, noting that the adjusted HRs for NFS were 2.50 and 4.28, respectively.
In addition to liver-related complications, patients with NAFLD are known to have an increased CVE risk, and while liver fibrosis severity is used to determine prognosis, not all patients can undergo a liver biopsy to assess fibrosis. Therefore, there is a need to identify and validate noninvasive markers of liver fibrosis, but few data exist with respect to the predictive role of noninvasive scoring on CVEs, they said.
The findings of this study suggest the use of the NFS and FIB-4 score may reduce the need for liver biopsy by identifying NAFLD patients at higher risk of having advanced liver fibrosis. They further suggest that liver fibrosis development in patients with NAFLD “may be the result of a long-term exposure to cardiometabolic risk factors such as diabetes,” and that “the concomitant presence of multiple cardiometabolic conditions may induce a chronic low-grade proinflammatory and pro-oxidant status leading to liver inflammation (i.e., macrophage activation) and collagen deposition.”
The findings may also have clinical implications: “The association between liver fibrosis and cardiovascular risk supports a potential role for statin treatment in patients with NAFLD,” they explained.
The authors reported having no disclosures.
SOURCE: Baratta F et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2019.12.026.