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Renaming NAFLD: The Importance and Implications of the Transition to MASLD

The lexicon of medicine is often filled with complex jargon, reflecting the intricacies of human health. Occasionally, these medical terms carry unintended implications and stigmas that may harm patient perception and engagement in their healthcare journey. One such term that has recently been reconsidered is "Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease" (NAFLD). After much consideration by leading liver societies, the consensus among healthcare professionals and stakeholders is to rename NAFLD as "Metabolic dysfunction-Associated Steatotic Liver Disease" (MASLD). Here's why this change matters, and why we applaud this important change.

The name NAFLD subtly places the blame on the patient, suggesting that the condition is solely due to poor diet and lifestyle choices. This reinforces stereotypes and amplifies the stigma associated with the disease. These stigmas can lead to feelings of guilt, embarrassment, and ultimately deter individuals from seeking timely and effective healthcare.

Switching to MASLD emphasizes the metabolic dysregulation that truly underlies the disease, thereby shifting the focus away from blame and towards understanding the disease's root causes. This shift better aligns the name with the actual etiology of the disease, acknowledging the role of factors such as insulin resistance, abnormal cholesterol levels, and genetic predispositions.

Moreover, this change will help to debunk the commonly held misconception that only overweight or obese individuals can develop this disease. In fact, a notable percentage of individuals with normal body weights also suffer from MASLD, reinforcing that this disease is not solely a consequence of lifestyle choices. There is a growing prevalence of MASLD in pediatric patients as well, and removal of the “non-alcoholic” term will hopefully help better describe the disease in this population.

With the spotlight on metabolic dysfunction, research ought to receive increased attention, funding, and progress in these underlying areas. Furthermore, the new term helps clinicians communicate the nature of the disease more effectively to patients, leading to better patient understanding, engagement, and overall disease management.

Transitioning from NAFLD to MASLD can significantly improve the way we approach this condition on multiple fronts: from de-stigmatization and more accurate public perception to catalyzing research and enhancing patient engagement. By moving towards this more precise and compassionate terminology, we take a critical step in empowering patients and driving forward the understanding and management of this prevalent yet often misunderstood disease.


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