Over the next 10 to 20 years, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a form of obesity-related fatty liver disease, could overtake the hepatitis C virus (HCV) as the leading indication for a liver transplant in the United States, predicts a new study published in the journal Gastroenterology and reported by Medscape.com.

Liver disease researchers say incidence of NASH has steadily risen in the United States during the past decade, as obesity rates continue to skyrocket. The condition is characterized by liver inflammation, and if left to its own devices without a transplant, it can ultimately cause cirrhosis, liver fibrosis and even liver cancer. Other than weight loss, there is no effective treatment for NASH.

For the predictive study, researchers collected data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network from 2004 through 2013. They specifically analyzed liver transplant indications for patients living with hepatitis C, NASH, alcoholic liver disease (ALD), or a combination of hep C and ALD.

Results from the analysis found that over the course of 10 years, new waitlist registrants with NASH nearly tripled, rising specifically by 170 percent. At the same time, wait list candidates with hepatitis C increased by a much smaller margin, about 14 percent. Both ALD-related groups actually decreased their number of potential transplantees during the study period.

Researchers also said that by 2013, NASH had become the second-leading liver disease among liver transplant waitlist registrants. They also estimated that with new hepatitis C cures potentially eliminating the need for transplants in people living with HCV, fatty liver disease may overcome the virus as the main reason for liver transplants within the next two decades.