May 6, 2024 - Health

A common liver disease with an unfortunate name gets a rebrand

Illustration of a stethoscope with quotation marks as the ear pieces.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

A common liver condition — non-alcoholic fatty liver disease — is in the midst of a rebrand.

Why it matters: The name of the condition, which affects 1 in 4 U.S. adults, was officially changed by several medical societies in the last year, and is part of a broader effort to eliminate stigmatizing language from medicine.

  • Experts say the name was changed to metabolic dysfunction-associated steatotic liver disease, or MASLD, to more accurately reflect the science of the condition as a metabolic disorder.
  • Notably, it's missing potentially jarring terms no patient wants to hear: "fatty" and "alcoholic."

State of play: The change is happening slowly, with government and health system websites — and doctors — still commonly referencing fatty liver disease.

  • "It will take some time," a spokesperson for the American Liver Foundation told Axios. She said the organization itself is easing into use of the new name to reduce confusion.
  • MASLD is a chronic liver disease caused by a buildup of fat in the liver and can lead to inflammation and liver damage.

Between the lines: The shift was recently pointed out to me by Don Chalfin, who works in medical affairs for Siemens Healthineers, after I wrote about the changing language around obesity.

  • "It's bad enough being a patient. You shouldn't have to be ashamed for it," Chalfin said.
  • Chalfin, who is also an ICU doctor, is speaking from firsthand experience after unexpectedly being diagnosed with liver disease so advanced he needed a transplant. Something as simple as a name can be a barrier to someone deciding to get screened, he said.
  • "It's like anything else: The earlier you can detect it, the less likely it is to progress and the more likely it is we can do something," he said.
Go deeper