Adults with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) fared as well on key outcome measures as other liver transplant recipients, despite having significantly more comorbidities, according to the results of a single-center retrospective cohort study.

Major morbidity, mortality, and rates of graft survival after 90 days were similar between patients who underwent transplantation for NASH and those who underwent it for another cirrhotic liver condition, wrote Eline H. van den Berg, MD, of University Medical Center Groningen (the Netherlands) with her associates. “These results are comforting, considering the expected increase of patients with NASH cirrhosis in the near future,” the researchers concluded. “Future analysis regarding the recurrence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, development of long-term complications, long-term graft patency, and occurrence of comorbid diseases after LT [liver transplantation] is mandatory to better understand the natural history and risk profile of NASH patients and to prevent and treat its complications.” The findings were published online in Digestive and Liver Disease (Dig Liver Dis. 2017 Aug 11. doi: 10.1016/j.dld.2017.08.022 ).

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease begins as steatosis and can progress to NASH, fibrosis, and cirrhosis. The global obesity epidemic is amplifying its incidence, and about 26% of patients who develop NASH ultimately develop cirrhosis. Cirrhosis itself increases the risk of in-hospital death or prolonged length of postoperative stay, but patients with NASH also have obesity and cardiovascular disease, which might “tremendously increase” the risk of poor postoperative outcomes, the researchers said. Because prior research had focused mainly on mortality and had reported conflicting results, they used the Clavien-Dindo classification system to retrospectively study rates of complications among 169 adults who underwent liver transplantation at their center from 2009 through 2015, including 34 (20%) patients with NASH cirrhosis.

Patients with NASH were significantly older than other transplant recipients (59 versus 55 years, P = .01) and had markedly higher rates of obesity (62% versus 8%; P less than .01), diabetes mellitus (74% versus 20%; P less than .01), metabolic syndrome (83% versus 38%; P less than .01), hypertension (61% versus 30%; P less than .01), and cardiovascular disease (29% versus 11%; P less than .01). Despite these differences, the groups had statistically similar rates of postoperative mortality (3% in both groups), 90-day graft survival posttransplantation (94% and 90%, respectively), and major postoperative complications, including biopsy-proven acute cellular rejection (3% and 7%), hepatic artery thrombosis (0% and 7%), relaparotomy (15% and 24%), primary nonfunction (0% and 1.6%), retransplantation (6% and 7%), sepsis (12% and 13%), gastrointestinal infection (24% and 36%), fever of unknown origin (18% and 14%), and renal replacement therapy (15% and 24%).

After accounting for age, sex, transplant year, and donor characteristics, NASH patients were at significantly increased risk of grade 2 urogenital infections, compared with other patients (odds ratio, 3.4; 95% confidence interval, 1.1 to 10.6; P = .03). Grade 1 complications also were more common with NASH than otherwise (77% versus 59%), and the difference remained statistically significant in the multivariable analysis (OR, 1.6; 95% CI, 1.03 to 2.63; P = .04).

The study used a strict, internationally accepted definition of NASH – all patients either had cases confirmed by biopsy, had metabolic syndrome, or had obesity and type 2 diabetes mellitus, and, further, none had hepatitis or alcoholic liver disease. None of the patients in the study received transplants for acute liver failure or noncirrhotic liver disease, and none were 70 years or older, which is the cutoff age for liver transplantation in the Netherlands.

The investigators received no funding for the study and reported having no conflicts of interest.