Harvard Heart Letter

Fatty liver disease linked to clogged heart arteries

As many as one in four adults has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition marked by excess fat in the liver. Although often symptomless, it can eventually damage the liver, leading to fatigue, weakness, abdominal pain, and other symptoms. NAFLD tends to occur in people who are overweight or obese, or who have diabetes—problems that are also common in people with heart disease. Now, new research finds a strong link between NAFLD and dangerous plaque inside in the heart's arteries.

The study, in the Nov. 4, 2014, issue of Radiology, included 445 people who were admitted to emergency rooms with suspected heart attacks. Researchers used computed tomography (CT) scans, a type of enhanced x-ray imaging, to assess the participants' livers and coronary arteries. People with NAFLD were six times as likely to have high-risk plaque—the type most likely to cause a heart attack—than those without the liver condition. There are no treatments for NAFLD, but eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and losing weight if needed may help prevent or even reverse possible liver damage from the condition. 

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