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Summary

Background : Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is prevalent in affluent countries and is a cause of cirrhosis and possibly hepatocellular carcinoma.

Aim : To examine the clinical and histological features of biopsy-proven non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and investigate the predictors of severe histological disease in Chinese patients.

Methods : Electronic records of all patients (n = 247) who underwent liver biopsy between 1996 and 2003 in our hospital were retrieved. Patients who had histological features of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were identified. The demographic, clinical, laboratory and histological (Brunt's criteria) parameters of these patients were analysed.

Results : Forty-two patients had histology-proven non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The median age was 47 years (range 23–69). All except one patient had features of metabolic syndrome. The median alanine aminotransferase was 93 (range 24–270) IU/L. Thirty-six (85.7%) patients had steatohepatitis and 11 (26.1%) also had fibrosis. Only one patient had stage 3 fibrosis. The presence of diabetes mellitus predicted higher grade steatohepatitis and fibrosis (P = 0.019) whereas alanine aminotransferase level had no correlation with histological severity of steatohepatitis. After a median follow-up of 42 months, no patient developed hepatic decompensation.

Conclusions : Most Chinese patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease had features of the metabolic syndrome. Histological activity was generally mild. Diabetes mellitus was the most important predictor of severe histological disease.