Background: Steatosis is occasionally reported during screening ultrasonography in patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV). We conducted a retrospective observational study to assess the factors associated with steatosis on ultrasonography and the relationship between steatosis on ultrasound versus biopsy in patients infected with HCV in a clinical setting. Our hypothesis was ultrasonography would perform poorly for the detection of steatosis outside of the context of a controlled study, primarily due to false-positive results caused by hepatic fibrosis and inflammation.
Methods: A retrospective review of ultrasound reports was conducted on patients infected with HCV in a tertiary care gastroenterology clinic. Reports were reviewed for the specific documentation of the presence of steatosis. Baseline clinical and histologic parameters were recorded, and compared for patients with vs. without steatosis. Multiple logistic regression analysis was performed on these baseline variables. Liver biopsies were reviewed by two pathologists, and graded for steatosis. Steatosis on biopsy was compared to steatosis on ultrasound report, and the performance characteristics of ultrasonography were calculated, using biopsy as the gold standard.
Results: Ultrasound reports were available on 164 patients. Patients with steatosis on ultrasound had a higher incidence of the following parameters compared to patients without steatosis: diabetes (12/49 [24%] vs. 7/115 [6%], p < 0.001), fibrosis stage > 2 (15/48 [31%] vs. 16/110 [15%], p = 0.02), histologic grade > 2 (19/48 [40%] vs. 17/103 [17%], p = 0.002), and ALT (129.5 +/- 89.0 IU/L vs. 94.3 +/- 87.0 IU/L, p = 0.01). Histologic grade was the only factor independently associated with steatosis with multivariate analysis. When compared to the histologic diagnosis of steatosis (n = 122), ultrasonography had a substantial number of false-positive and false-negative results. In patients with a normal ultrasound, 8/82 (10%) had > 30% steatosis on biopsy. Among patients with steatosis reported on ultrasound, only 12/40 (30%) had > 30% steatosis on biopsy review.
Conclusion: Steatosis on ultrasound is associated with markers of inflammation and fibrosis in HCV-infected patients, but does not consistently correlate with steatosis on biopsy outside of the context of a controlled study. Clinicians should be skeptical of the definitive diagnosis of steatosis on hepatic ultrasonography.