Transient elastography (FibroScan [FS]) is a novel non-invasive tool to assess liver fibrosis/cirrhosis. However, it remains to be determined if other liver diseases such as extrahepatic cholestasis interfere with fibrosis assessment because liver stiffness is indirectly measured by the propagation velocity of an ultrasound wave within the liver. In this study, we measured liver stiffness immediately before endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography and 3 to 12 days after successful biliary drainage in patients with extrahepatic cholestasis mostly due to neoplastic invasion of the biliary tree. Initially elevated liver stiffness decreased in 13 of 15 patients after intervention, in 10 of them markedly. In three patients, liver stiffness was elevated to a degree that suggested advanced liver cirrhosis (mean, 15.2 kPa). Successful drainage led to a drop of bilirubin by 2.8 to 9.8 mg/dL whereas liver stiffness almost normalized (mean, 7.1 kPa). In all patients with successful biliary drainage, the decrease of liver stiffness highly correlated with decreasing bilirubin (Spearman's rho = 0.67, P < 0.05) with a mean decrease of liver stiffness of 1.2 +/- 0.56 kPa per 1 g/dL bilirubin. Two patients, in whom liver stiffness did not decrease despite successful biliary drainage, had advanced liver cirrhosis and multiple liver metastases, respectively. The relationship between extrahepatic cholestasis and liver stiffness was reproduced in an animal model of bile duct ligation in landrace pigs where liver stiffness increased from 4.6 kPa to 8.8 kPa during 120 minutes of bile duct ligation and decreased to 6.1 kPa within 30 minutes after decompression.
Conclusion: Extrahepatic cholestasis increases liver stiffness irrespective of fibrosis. Once extrahepatic cholestasis is excluded (e.g., by liver imaging and laboratory parameters) transient elastography is a valuable tool to assess liver fibrosis in chronic liver diseases.