Study of the Week: NAFLD Rates Are Rising Rapidly Around the World

Welcome to Study of the Week from Patient Worthy. In this segment, we select a study we posted about from the previous week that we think is of particular interest or importance and go more in-depth. In this story we will talk about the details of the study and explain why it’s important, who will be impacted, and more.

If you read our short form research stories and find yourself wanting to learn more, you’ve come to the right place.


This week’s study is…

The prevalence and incidence of NAFLD worldwide: a systematic review and meta-analysis

We previously published about this research in a story titled “Study Finds NAFLD Rates Rising on Global Scale” which can be found here. The study was originally published in the scientific journal Lancet Gastroenterology and Hepatology. You can read the full text of the study here

This research team was affiliated with the University of Calgary.

What Happened?

This study sought to understand the prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) around the world, and how rates of the condition have changed over time. In effect, this study was a very large scale prevalence analysis which encompassed 72 publications, 17 countries, and a sample population of over a million adults. In the incidence analysis portion, 16 publications, five countries, and 382,000 patients were included.

The researchers found that rate of NAFLD around the world has been rising steadily, and they project that 32.4 percent of adults (nearly a third) have the disease. The prevalence of the disease jumped from 25.5 percent before 2005 to 37.8 percent in 2016 and beyond. Additionally, men were substantially more likely to have NAFLD (39.7 percent vs 25.6 percent). This study found higher rates than similar studies conducted in recent years, with the research team alleging that the other studies were degraded by limitations and bias.

The scientists found 56.8 percent prevalence in Africa, 47.8 percent in America, 32.6 percent across Europe, and  31.6 percent across Asia. The large scale prevalence of NAFLD as found by this study suggests that it could evolve to become a major health challenge in the years and decades to come, particularly if rates continue to increase so dramatically.

About Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease (ADPKD) is the most widespread monogenic human disorder that can be potentially fatal. However, it is still generally rare. It is characterized by the development of cysts in the kidneys and sometimes other organs as well. ADPKD is caused by mutations affecting the PKD1 gene in 85 percent of cases; in the remainder, the mutation affects the PKD2 gene. The presentation of the disease varies considerably, even within families. Signs of kidney problems often do not appear until middle age, although cysts may begin formation very early in life. Symptoms include anemia, bloody urine, acute loin pain, uremia, liver cysts, berry aneurysm, and high blood pressure. Treatment options are varied; aquaretics can slow disease progression temporarily. Other options include a number of surgical procedures, dialysis, and, when the kidneys begin to fail, kidney transplant. To learn more about ADPKD, click here.

Why Does it Matter?

The findings of this study are mostly in alignment with other research that has found an increasing rate of NAFLD in the human population. However, these results are sounding that alarm that the increase may be happening substantially faster than the scientific world first thought, and that nearly a third of human adults have the condition.

The researchers concluded that the increases found in this study:

“…Should drive enhanced awareness of NAFLD at the level of primary care physicians, public health specialists, and health policy makers to encourage the development of more effective preventive policies…Greater awareness of NAFLD and the development of cost-effective risk stratification strategies are needed to address the growing burden NAFLD.” – Abdel-Aziz Shaheen, MBBCh, MSc

Overall, the medical field will need to mobilize in order to handle the effects of this increasingly widespread condition.

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