The risk and speed of progression from fibrosis to compensated and decompensated cirrhosis define the prognosis in liver diseases. Therefore, early detection and preventive strategies affect outcomes. Patients with liver disease have traditionally been diagnosed at an advanced stage of disease, in part due to lack of non-invasive markers. Ultrasound elastography to measure liver stiffness can potentially change this paradigm. The purpose of this review was therefore to summarize advances in the field of ultrasound elastography with focus on diagnosis of liver fibrosis, cirrhosis and clinically significant portal hypertension, techniques and limitations. Four types of ultrasound elastography exist, but there is scarce evidence comparing the different techniques. The majority of experience concern transient elastography for diagnosing fibrosis and cirrhosis in patients with chronic viral hepatitis C. That said, the role of elastography in other aetiologies such as alcoholic- and non-alcoholic liver fibrosis still needs clarification. Although elastography can be used to diagnose liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, its true potential lies in the possibility of multiple, repeated measurements that allow for treatment surveillance, continuous risk stratification and monitoring of complications. As such, elastography may be a powerful tool for personalized medicine. While elastography is an exciting technique, the nature of ultrasound imaging limits its applicability, due to the risk of failures and unreliable results. Key factors that limit the applicability of liver stiffness measurements are as follows: liver vein congestion, cholestasis, a recent meal, inflammation, obesity, observer experience and ascites. The coming years will show whether elastography will be widely adapted in general care.
Journal review article
Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging, 2017, Vol 37, Issue 3