Transient elastography as a screening tool for liver fibrosis and cirrhosis in a community-based population aged over 45 years

2011 Gut 60;7 (977-984)

BACKGROUND: Liver stiffness measurement (LSM) has been used to measure fibrosis in patients with various types of chronic liver diseases. However, its usefulness as a screening procedure in apparently healthy people had not been evaluated to date. METHODS: 1358 subjects >45 years old from a general population attending for a medical check-up were consecutively enrolled in the study. All subjects were submitted to medical examination and laboratory tests in addition to LSM, performed on the same day by a single operator. Subjects with LSM values >8 kPa were referred to a liver unit for further investigations. RESULTS: 168 subjects were not considered for analysis due to missing data (n=23), LSM failure (n=51) or unreliable LSM values (n=94). Among the 1190 remaining subjects, 89 (7.5%) had LSM >8 kPa including nine patients with LSM >13 kPa. Despite the fact that normal liver tests were observed in 43% of them (38 out of 89), a specific cause of chronic liver disease was found in all cases. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) was the likely cause of chronic liver disease in 52 patients, alcoholic liver disease (ALD) in 20, and both causes were associated in seven additional patients. Hepatitis C virus and hepatitis B virus chronic hepatitis was documented in five and four cases, respectively, and primary biliary cirrhosis in one. Liver biopsy was obtained for 27 patients, including the nine patients with LSM >13 kPa, who were diagnosed with liver cirrhosis due to ALD (n=5), chronic hepatitis C (n=3) or chronic hepatitis B (n=1). The 18 remaining biopsies showed liver fibrosis in all cases except one (isolated steatosis), with ALD and NAFLD being present in six and eight cases, respectively. CONCLUSION: LSM proved to be a useful and specific procedure to screen for cirrhosis in the general population and to detect undiagnosed chronic liver disease in apparently healthy subjects.