Prevalence of clinically significant liver disease within the general population, as defined by non-invasive markers of liver fibrosis: a systematic review

Lancet Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2017 Apr;2(4):288-297. doi: 10.1016/S2468-1253(16)30205-9. Epub 2017 Feb 1.


As of 2016, there is no evidence-based pathway to stratify the risk of chronic liver disease in a general population setting. Non-invasive tests of liver fibrosis might provide a mechanism for earlier diagnosis. These tests have been extensively validated in the hospital setting but their performance in a general population setting is unclear. We did a systematic review of non-invasive tests used to stratify patients at risk of clinically significant liver disease in a general population setting and report the prevalence of chronic liver disease as defined by these tests. We systematically searched Embase, MEDLINE, Web of Science, reference lists from the original studies identified, and recent conference proceedings. All study designs were considered. 19 studies were identified, in which 11 non-invasive tests were used. Only transient elastography and FibroTest were compared with histological endpoints. The prevalence of liver fibrosis varied between 0·7% and 25·7%. More focused stratification for advanced liver fibrosis (0·9-2·0%) or cirrhosis (0·1-1·7%) narrowed the estimates of prevalence. Investigators from studies targeting patients with risk factors of liver disease, such as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, hazardous alcohol use, or type 2 diabetes, reported higher prevalence of advanced liver fibrosis (0-27·9%) and cirrhosis (2·4-4·0%) than those in the general population. Validated non-invasive tests for liver fibrosis consistently detected otherwise unrecognised liver disease in the general population. Reliance on abnormal liver function tests will miss most patients with significant liver injury. New pathways to stratify chronic liver disease, with the use of non-invasive markers of liver fibrosis, are needed in the general population setting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Asymptomatic Diseases / epidemiology
  • Chronic Disease
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Liver Cirrhosis / diagnosis*
  • Liver Cirrhosis / epidemiology*
  • Liver Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Liver Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Liver Function Tests* / methods
  • Mass Screening* / methods
  • Prevalence
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors