Study: Weight loss surgery decreases risk of progression of liver disease, heart complications

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A new Cleveland Clinic study shows bariatric surgery can be an effective treatment for advanced fatty liver disease.

“The results were remarkable. From the progression of liver disease to the progression of liver cancer, cirrhosis, liver transplantation or liver-related death, there was an 88% reduction in the patients that got bariatric surgery. That is an enormous reduction,” said Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist for Cleveland Clinic.

For those unfamiliar, advanced fatty liver disease, formally known as non-steatohepatitis (NASH), can develop as a result of obesity.

Nissen said their goal with this study was to see if bariatric surgery could help stop the progression of NASH. Researchers looked at nearly 1,160 patients with confirmed advanced fatty liver disease, who had a biopsy between 2004 and 2016, and were followed through March of 2021.

He said in addition to learning that bariatric surgery can help with advanced fatty liver disease, they also discovered that it was associated with a 70% lower risk of developing serious cardiovascular diseases.

“To see the risk go down by such an enormous extent, that was surprising and it was surprising for both liver-related adverse outcomes and heart-related adverse outcomes. They both showed a very, very large effect of surgery on how patients did,” said Nissen.

Currently, there is no FDA-approved medication to treat fatty liver disease. However, Nissen said based on the evidence from their study, bariatric surgery could be an alternative treatment option.