Even early forms of liver disease harm heart health, study finds

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In a study from Cedars-Sinai, scientists found that even subtle forms of liver disease directly impact heart health.

The findings help further clarify the link between liver disease and heart disease beyond their shared risk factors.

In the study, the team compared patients’ FIB-4 scores—a marker for liver fibrosis that can indicate the risk of developing severe liver disease—with heart abnormalities visible through cardiac MRI scans.

They reviewed electronic medical records from the past 11 years of 1,668 patients who had low, moderate, or high FIB-4 scores within one year of having a cardiac MRI.

They found that elevated FIB-4 scores were linked to abnormalities in heart function and vascular dimension. Nearly 86% of patients had at least one heart abnormality

It had been known that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease was linked to heart death, but the link was poorly understood and possibly obscured by risk factors the two have in common, such as diabetes.

Previous similar studies had been limited in scope, looking only at how cirrhosis and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affect the heart.

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association (AHA) released a statement that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease—an increasingly common liver condition that affects more than one in four adult Americans—is a risk factor for atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.

And surprisingly, heart disease—not the progression of liver disease—is the leading cause of death in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

The team says cardiac MRI provides a unique view of the heart, using detailed imaging that can identify subtle changes in heart structure, function, blood vessel size and structure, heart muscle composition, and more.

The abnormalities they saw were vascular changes—enlargement of the blood vessels coming out of the heart as well as an increase in how much blood was moving.

This study’s findings indicate that we can and should screen for liver conditions when looking at heart conditions.

The next step in the research is to further explore the impact that liver disease can have on heart health.

If you care about liver health please read studies about how to prevent liver disease with diet changes, and this common sugar in the American diet may lead to fatty liver disease.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies about artificial sweeteners linked to a higher risk of heart disease, and results showing which is bad for your heart health: Coconut oil, olive oil, or butter?

The study was conducted by Alan Kwan et al and published in Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.

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