A variety of demographic and disease-related factors contribute to poorer quality of life in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), based on questionnaires involving 304 European patients.

In contrast with previous research, lobular inflammation, but not hepatic fibrosis, was associated with worse quality of life, reported to lead author Yvonne Huber, MD, of Johannes Gutenberg University in Mainz, Germany, and colleagues. Women and those with advanced disease or comorbidities had the lowest health-related quality of life (HRQL) scores. The investigators suggested that these findings could be used for treatment planning at a population and patient level.

“With the emergence of medical therapy for [nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH)], it will be of importance to identify patients with the highest unmet need for treatment,” the investigators wrote in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, emphasizing that therapies targeting inflammation could provide the greatest relief.

To determine which patients with NAFLD were most affected by their condition, the investigators used the Chronic Liver Disease Questionnaire (CLDQ), which assesses physical, mental, social, and emotional function, with lower scores indicating poorer health-related quality of life. “[The CLDQ] more specifically addresses symptoms of patients with chronic liver disease, including extrahepatic manifestations, compared with traditional HRQL measures such as the [Short Form–36 (SF-36)] Health Survey Questionnaire,” the investigators explained. Recent research has used the CLDQ to reveal a variety of findings, the investigators noted, such as a 2016 study by Alt and colleagues outlining the most common symptoms in noninfectious chronic liver disease (abdominal discomfort, fatigue, and anxiety), and two studies by Younossi and colleagues describing quality of life improvements after curing hepatitis C virus, and negative impacts of viremia and hepatic inflammation in patients with hepatitis B.

The current study involved 304 patients with histologically confirmed NAFLD who were prospectively entered into the European NAFLD registry via centers in Germany (n = 133), the United Kingdom (n = 154), and Spain (n = 17). Patient data included demographic factors, laboratory findings, and histologic features. Within 6 months of liver biopsy, patients completed the CLDQ.

The mean patient age was 52.3 years, with slightly more men than women (53.3% vs. 46.7%). Most patients (75%) were obese, leading to a median body mass index of 33.3 kg/m2. More than two-thirds of patients (69.1%) had NASH, while approximately half of the population (51.4%) had moderate steatosis, no or low-grade fibrosis (F0-2, 58.2%), and no or low-grade lobular inflammation (grade 0 or 1, 54.7%). The three countries had significantly different population profiles; for example, the United Kingdom had an approximately 10% higher prevalence of type 2 diabetes and obesity compared with the entire cohort, but a decreased arterial hypertension rate of a similar magnitude. The United Kingdom also had a significantly lower mean CLDQ score than that of the study population as a whole (4.73 vs. 4.99).

Analysis of the entire cohort revealed that a variety of demographic and disease-related factors negatively impacted health-related quality of life. Women had a significantly lower mean CLDQ score than that of men (5.31 vs. 4.62; P less than .001), more often reporting abdominal symptoms, fatigue, systemic symptoms, reduced activity, diminished emotional functioning, and worry. CLDQ overall score was negatively influenced by obesity (4.83 vs. 5.46), type 2 diabetes (4.74 vs. 5.25), and hyperlipidemia (4.84 vs. 5.24), but not hypertension. Laboratory findings that negatively correlated with CLDQ included aspartate transaminase (AST) and HbA1c, whereas ferritin was positively correlated.

Generally, patients with NASH reported worse quality of life than that of those with just NAFLD (4.85 vs. 5.31). Factors contributing most to this disparity were fatigue, systemic symptoms, activity, and worry. On a histologic level, hepatic steatosis, ballooning, and lobular inflammation predicted poorer quality of life; although advanced fibrosis and compensated cirrhosis were associated with a trend toward reduced quality of life, this pattern lacked statistical significance. Multivariate analysis, which accounted for age, sex, body mass index, country, and type 2 diabetes, revealed independent associations between reduced quality of life and type 2 diabetes, sex, age, body mass index, and hepatic inflammation, but not fibrosis.

“The striking finding of the current analysis in this well-characterized European cohort was that, in contrast to the published data on predictors of overall and liver-specific mortality, lobular inflammation correlated independently with HRQL,” the investigators wrote. “These results differ from the NASH [Clinical Research Network] cohort, which found lower HRQL using the generic [SF-36 Health Survey Questionnaire] in NASH compared with a healthy U.S. population and a significant effect in cirrhosis only.” The investigators suggested that mechanistic differences in disease progression could explain this discordance.

Although hepatic fibrosis has been tied with quality of life by some studies, the investigators pointed out that patients with chronic hepatitis B or C have reported improved quality of life after viral elimination or suppression, which reduce inflammation, but not fibrosis. “On the basis of the current analysis, it can be expected that improvement of steatohepatitis, and in particular lobular inflammation, will have measurable influence on HRQL even independently of fibrosis improvement,” the investigators concluded.

The study was funded by H2020. The investigators reported no conflicts of interest.

SOURCE: Huber Y et al. CGH. 2018 Dec 20. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2018.12.016.