Methods for assessing intrahepatic fat content and steatosis

Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2009 Sep;12(5):474-81. doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32832eb587.


Purpose of review: Intrahepatic fat content is increasingly being recognized as an integral part of metabolic dysfunction. This article reviews available methods for the assessment of hepatic steatosis.

Recent findings: Apart from liver biopsy, there are several noninvasive radiologic modalities for evaluating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Ultrasonography, computed tomography, and traditional MRI remain largely qualitative methods for detecting mild to severe degrees of steatosis rather than quantitative methods for measuring liver fat content, even though novel attempts to collect objective quantitative information have recently been developed. Still, their sensitivity at mild degrees of steatosis is poor. Undoubtedly, most methodological advances have occurred in the field of MRI and magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which currently enable the accurate quantification of intrahepatic fat even at normal or near normal levels. Xenon computed tomography was also recently shown to offer another objective tool for the quantitative assessment of steatosis, although more validation studies are required.

Summary: Several modalities can be used for measuring intrahepatic fat and assessing steatosis; the choice will ultimately depend on the intended use and available resources.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Body Fat Distribution*
  • Fatty Liver / diagnosis*
  • Fatty Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Liver / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed
  • Triglycerides / metabolism*
  • Ultrasonography


  • Triglycerides