AGA Clinical Care Pathway: Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment of NAFLD and NASH

Will Pass

November 19, 2021

The American Gastroenterological Association recently published a Clinical Care Pathway for screening, diagnosis, and treatment of patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Recommendations are intended for a spectrum of clinical settings, including primary care, obesity medicine, gastroenterology, hepatology, and endocrinology practices, reported lead author Fasiha Kanwal, MD, of Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and colleagues.

"Most patients with NAFLD and NASH [nonalcoholic steatohepatitis] are seen in primary care or endocrine clinics," the authors wrote in Gastroenterology. "Although not all patients with NAFLD/NASH require secondary (i.e., hepatology) care, not knowing which patients might benefit from such care and when to refer them results in inconsistent care processes and possibly poor outcomes. Clinical Care Pathways, with careful explication of each step in screening, diagnosis, and treatment, have been shown to improve the quality of health care delivery in other areas of medicine, [and] are crucial to addressing the often inconsistent care processes characterizing current approaches to NAFLD/NASH."

The guidance was drafted by a group of 15 multidisciplinary experts from around the world representing the AGA, the American Diabetes Association, the American Osteopathic Association, the Obesity Society, and the Endocrine Society. Recommendations were based on available literature and clinical experience.

The authors recommended a four-step screening process for NAFLD/NASH: Check for risk factors predicting clinically relevant fibrosis (stage F2 or higher), review history and perform relevant laboratory tests, conduct noninvasive liver fibrosis testing, and measure liver stiffness.

Patients at greatest risk for clinically significant fibrosis include those with two or more metabolic risk factors, those with type 2 diabetes, and those with incidentally detected steatosis and/or elevated aminotransferases.

"A recent retrospective cohort study found that patients with hepatic steatosis and elevated alanine aminotransferase had a significantly higher risk of progression to cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma than patients with hepatic steatosis and persistently normal alanine aminotransferase," the authors noted.

When any of the above risk factors are present, the authors recommended checking the patient's history for excessive alcohol intake, conducting a complete blood count and liver function tests, and screening for other hepatic and biliary diseases, such as chronic hepatitis C virus infection and liver mass lesions.

If other liver diseases have been ruled out, the first step in liver fibrosis risk stratification involves noninvasive testing, with the authors favoring the Fibrosis-4 (FIB-4) score "because it has been shown to have the best diagnostic accuracy for advanced fibrosis, compared with other noninvasive markers of fibrosis in patients with NAFLD."

The next step in risk stratification involves liver stiffness measurement (LSM) with FibroScan (vibration controlled transient elastography [VCTE]), or newer modalities, such as bidimensional shear wave elastography or point shear wave elastography, which offer "diagnostic performances at least as good as VCTE."

According to the publication, patients with NAFLD at low risk of advanced fibrosis (FIB-4 less than 1.3 or LSM less than 8 kPa or liver biopsy F0-F1) can be managed by one provider, such as a primary care provider or endocrinologist, whereas indeterminate-risk patients (FIB-4 of 1.3-2.67 and/or LSM 8-12 kPa and liver biopsy unavailable) and high-risk patients (FIB-4 greater than 2.67 or LSM greater than 12 kPa or liver biopsy F2-F4) should be managed by a multidisciplinary team led by a hepatologist.

Lifestyle intervention, weight loss (if overweight or obese), and cardiovascular disease risk reduction are advised for patients of all risk categories.

"There are no large, long-term behavioral modification or pharmacotherapy studies regarding weight loss in individuals with NAFLD," the authors wrote. "However, weight loss of any magnitude should be encouraged as beneficial."

For patients with indeterminate and high risk, NASH pharmacotherapy is recommended, and if needed, diabetes care should involve medications with efficacy in NASH, such as pioglitazone.

"Although we recognize that knowledge is continuing to evolve and that recommendations may change accordingly over time, we believe this Pathway provides accessible, standardized, evidence-based, timely, and testable recommendations that will allow clinicians to care for a rapidly growing population of patients, most of whom are managed in primary care or endocrine clinics," the authors concluded.

The article was supported by the American Gastroenterological Association, Intercept Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, and others. The authors disclosed relationships with Novo Nordisk, Eli Lilly, Sanofi, and others.

This article originally appeared on, part of the Medscape Professional Network.


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