Does It Matter If Fatty Liver Disease Is Called MAFLD or NAFLD?

H Lee, et al. Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 2138-2147. Metabolic Dysfunction-Associated Fatty Liver Disease and Incident Cardiovascular Disease Risk: A Nationwide Cohort Study

A recent study from South Korea with 9.5 million participants (followed for 10 years) shows that changing to metabolic dysfunction–associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) as a name change from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) changes the prevalence of at-risk individuals.

Key findings:

  • Prevalence of NAFLD and MAFLD were 28.0% and 37.3%, respectively
  • NAFLD and MAFLD were each associated with significantly higher risk for CVD events: multivariable-adjusted hazard ratios (95% confidence interval) for CVD events were 1.09 (1.03-1.15) in the NAFLD-only group, 1.43 (1.41-1.45) in the MAFLD-only group, and 1.56 (1.54-1.58) in the Both-FLD group
  • In the same issue, a study from Hong Kong showed similar prevalence rates between MAFLD (25.9%) and NAFLD (25.7%) (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 2161-2171). This study noted that many people with hepatic steatosis at baseline have less severe metabolic burden.
  • Also, in the same issue, using a well-define population of more than 13,000 from NHANES III, this retrospective study (Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol 2021; 19: 2172-2181) found that Non-NAFLD MAFLD patients had the highest all-cause and cardiovascular-cause related mortality. In addition, this group had the highest rate of advanced fibrosis >7% (compared to <2% in other groups.

My take (borrowed from authors of first study): “The change from NAFLD to MAFLD criteria may identify a greater number of individuals with metabolically complicated fatty liver and increased risk for CVD.”

Another related article: M Eslam, AJ Sanyal, J George. MAFLD: A Consensus-Driven Proposed Nomenclature for Metabolic Associated Fatty Liver Disease (2020). This article similar to a previous article (Improving Fatty Liver Nomenclature) suggests changing the name for NAFLD to MAFLD.

MAFLD Criteria in this study:

MAFLD is diagnosed based on the presence of hepatic steatosis with one or more of the following:

  1. diabetes mellitus
  2. overweight/obesity (BMI >/= 23)
  3. at least 2 metabolic abnormalities: a) Waist circumference ≥90 cm in men and 80 cm in women. b) Blood pressure ≥130/85 mmHg or under anti-hypertension therapy. c) High-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL-C) <40 mg/dL for males and <50 mg/dL for females. d) Triglyceride (TG) ≥150 mg/dL or specific drug treatment. e) fasting glucose ≥100 f) Homeostasis model assessment-insulin resistance (HOMA-IR) score ≥2.5; and g) Hypersensitive C-reactive protein (hs-CRP) level >2 mg/L.

NAFLD Criteria in this study:

The presence of hepatic steatosis without 1. excessive drinking ( ≥30 g/day in men, ≥20 g/day in women) and 2. concomitant liver diseases