Study links obesity to liver failure

LOS ANGELES (May 24, 2006) Researchers have found that obesity can put patients with acute liver failure at increased risk of mortality and other major complications, according to a new study presented today at Digestive Disease Week 2006 (DDW). DDW is the largest international gathering of physicians and researchers in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

The connection between diabetes and obesity in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has been well established; however, little is known about the possible link between these factors and acute liver failure (ALF). Investigators from Massachusetts General Hospital and the National Institutes of Health-funded Acute Liver Failure Study Group researched this connection and found that although obesity does not appear more prevalent in ALF cases, patients who are obese or morbidly obese have significantly poorer outcomes with ALF. ALF is a serious medical condition in which large portions of the liver quickly become so damaged that the liver is no longer able to function, putting patients at risk of severe complications and death.

Study authors examined 572 patients suffering from ALF and documented body mass index (BMI), prevalence of diabetes and patient outcome. The number of obese patients in the study was consistent with the prevalence of obesity in the general U.S. population. However, the mean BMI score was higher (28.8 versus 26.6) for ALF patients who needed liver transplants or died. In addition, obese ALF patients were almost twice as likely to need a transplant or die as non-obese patients. Finally, obese patients were also more than three times more likely to die post-liver transplant than non-obese patients. Because many of these obese patients have NAFLD, which has been shown to impair liver regeneration, they may have less capacity to regenerate or recover from acute liver failure than their non-obese counterparts.

"While obesity may not be a risk factor for the development of ALF, obese ALF patients are at serious risk of major liver-related complications and death," said Anna Rutherford, M.D., Massachusetts General Hospital and lead study author. "Physicians should encourage patients to maintain a healthy weight to help improve their health and outcome."

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Digestive Disease Week (DDW) is the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery. Jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT), DDW takes place May 20-25, 2006 in Los Angeles, California. The meeting showcases more than 5,000 abstracts and hundreds of lectures on the latest advances in GI research, medicine and technology.


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