Fatty liver may increase risk of heart failure

By By American Heart Association News, health day reporter

(Health Day)

WEDNESDAY, Nov. 16, 2022 (American Heart Association News) — Abnormal fat buildup in the liver not caused by alcohol may significantly increase the risk of heart failure, new research shows.

In the United States, nearly one in four adults has a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. Scientists already knew that NAFLD can lead to permanent liver damage and increase the risk of atherosclerosis, when plaque builds up in the arteries.

But there has been less research on the relationship between NAFLD and heart failure, a term used when the heart doesn’t pump as well as it should. About 6 million American adults suffer from heart failure, which cannot be cured but can be treated with lifestyle changes, medications and surgery.

Researchers looked at National Health Survey data from 2005 to 2018 and found more than 3.8 million adults with NAFLD, including about 400,000 who also had heart failure. People with NAFLD who were older, male, or had diabetes or coronary heart disease were at particularly high risk for heart failure. But even after adjusting for age, race and sex, the researchers found that adults with NAFLD were 3.5 times more likely to have heart failure than those without NAFLD.

“We expected a higher risk, but not as high,” said Dr. Vardhmaan Jain, the study’s principal investigator and a cardiology researcher at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

The results, presented this month at the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association, are considered preliminary until full results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

“Physicians should closely monitor heart function as well as liver biomarkers and ensure that patients with heart failure do not develop fatty liver disease and vice versa,” Jain said.

He said obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol often play a major role in NAFLD. He recommended using the AHA’s Life’s Essential 8 Checklist to improve and maintain cardiovascular health. The list calls for maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, being physically active, eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, and controlling blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.

“The results of this study really hammer home the message about the importance of taking your health seriously early in life and maintaining a healthy lifestyle long term,” Jain said.

He said research does not prove cause and effect and has not been able to distinguish between different types of heart failure. He called for future studies that follow people with NAFLD over time to see what factors might help predict heart failure.

Dr. P. Barton Duell, who was not involved in the new research, said the results “are another reminder that a diagnosis of NAFLD is associated with an increased risk” of heart problems.

Duell, professor of medicine at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute and Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, chaired the committee that authored a recent AHA scientific statement on NAFLD and the risk cardiovascular. He said NAFLD was also linked to an increased risk of liver cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. As rates of obesity and metabolic syndrome continue to rise, he urged medical professionals and the public to take NAFLD seriously.

“NAFLD is an underdiagnosed and underestimated health risk,” Duell said. “It’s very common in the general population, and it’s important to diagnose and treat it early.”

News from the American Heart Association covers heart and brain health. Any opinions expressed in this story do not reflect the official position of the American Heart Association. Copyright is owned or held by the American Heart Association, Inc., and all rights are reserved. If you have any questions or comments about this story, please email [email protected]

By Thor Christensen, American Heart Association News

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