A new study has shown that people with type 1 diabetes who suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) may have an increased risk of hardening of the carotid artery.
The thickening of the carotid artery has also been associated with increased prevalence of cardiovascular disease. The carotid artery is a major artery which supplies the brain with blood.
Researchers from the Instituto de Salud Carlos III, in Spain, have followed 100 middle-aged adults with long-standing type 1 diabetes to try and find out whether NAFLD, when detected, had any measurable impact on the integrity of their carotid artery.
What they’ve discovered is that, although the occurrence of NAFLD was low among participants (12 per cent of the group), those who had it presented signs of what is called carotid intima-media thickness (IMT).
Carotid intima-media thickness is a technical term that refers to the thickening and hardening of the artery wall, which, alongside other factors, can predispose someone to possible cardiovascular events.
The detection of a higher level of thickness of arteries alone does not necessarily indicate an important cardiovascular risk, unless it is compounded by an elevated coronary artery calcium score (CAC), a test that detects plaque in an artery.
This was taken into consideration in the study and calcium scores were calculated for all participants in addition to the intima-media thickness screening tests.
Looking at the results, researchers found that participants with NAFLD had higher carotid IMT, compared with participants without NAFLD.
But, only a small number of those participants had important carotid plaques or signs of microvascular complications accompanying the apparent increased artery thickness.
This means that, although NAFLD in type 1 diabetes appear to correlate with greater artery thickness, it is not on its own a strong predictor of an increased risk of presenting with cardiovascular disease.
Further studies would be needed before direct causation could be confirmed.

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