Non-invasive assessment and quantification of liver steatosis by ultrasound, computed tomography and magnetic resonance

J Hepatol. 2009 Sep;51(3):433-45. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2009.05.023. Epub 2009 Jun 11.


Hepatic steatosis is the most prevalent liver disorder in the developed world. It is closely associated with features of metabolic syndrome, especially insulin resistance and obesity. The two most common conditions associated with fatty liver are alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Liver biopsy is considered the gold standard for the assessment of liver fat, but there is a need for less invasive diagnostic techniques. New imaging modalities are emerging, which could provide more detailed information about hepatic tissue or even replace biopsy. In the present review, available imaging modalities (ultrasound, computed tomography, magnetic resonance imaging and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy) are presented which are employed to detect or even quantify the fat content of the liver. The advantages and disadvantages of the above-mentioned imaging modalities are discussed. Although none of these techniques is able to differentiate between microvesicular and macrovesicular steatosis and to reveal all features visible using histology, the proposed diagnostic modalities offer a wide range of additional information such as anatomical and morphological information non-invasively. In particular, magnetic resonance imaging and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy are able to quantify the hepatic fat content hence avoiding exposure to radiation. Except for proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy, all modalities offer additional information about regional fat distribution within the liver. MR elastography, which can estimate the amount of fibrosis, also appears promising in the differentiation between simple steatosis and steatohepatitis.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biopsy
  • Fatty Liver* / diagnostic imaging
  • Fatty Liver* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Liver* / diagnostic imaging
  • Liver* / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed / methods
  • Ultrasonography / methods