11 Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Health, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center , Columbus, Ohio.
22 Center for Innovation in Pediatric Practice, The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital , Nationwide Children's Hospital, Columbus, Ohio.
33 Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine , Erie, Ohio.
44 Department of Pediatrics, Division of Gastroenterology, Nationwide Children's Hospital , Columbus, Ohio.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has become a worldwide epidemic because of the greater prevalence of obesity. Despite implications for youth with severe mental disorders, little has been published in the psychiatric literature about this increasingly common medical comorbidity. The goals of this article are to: 1) provide an overview of the epidemiology and pathophysiology of NAFLD, including progression to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH); 2) describe two clinical cases illustrating difficulties faced in management; and 3) review screening recommendations, differential diagnosis, and monitoring and intervention approaches.
A literature review was conducted, including guidelines and recommendations, with case presentations including case and control liver histology biopsy photographs.
NAFLD in childhood and adolescence, as a precursor to NASH, progresses to fibrosis in a small percentage of youth, leading to risk for early onset cirrhosis and the need for transplantation. The cases presented raise concern that youth with severe mental health disorders, already at greater risk for obesity and its sequelae, may be at higher risk for progression to NASH, potentially because of greater rates of weight gain on top of overweight or obese status, and to liver metabolism changes from psychotropic medications favoring fat deposition.
Patients with rapid weight gain into the overweight or obese categories, or who develop elevated liver transaminases that persist across 3-6 months, should be screened or referred for screening by their psychotropic-providing clinicians for early detection, diagnosis, and co-management by a pediatric gastroenterologist, to decrease risk of progression to NASH, which is reversible if early and sufficient lifestyle change results in significant weight loss. There is urgent need for controlled research on the relationships among weight gain, psychotropic medications, ultrasound and biopsy findings, and rates of progression to NAFLD and NASH in youth taking weight-gain-inducing psychotropic medications.