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Using ultrasound to determine liver fibrosis

Mayfair • Feb 07, 2020

Liver fibrosis results from scarring and stiffening of healthy liver tissue. This form of liver damage can stem from a variety of causes.

One of the most common types of chronic liver disease is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which occurs when excess fat is stored in the liver cells without a known cause. This can lead to liver inflammation and eventually liver fibrosis.

As liver fibrosis progresses, the liver tissue becomes stiffer and may eventually lead to the end stage, referred to as cirrhosis.

Chronic liver disease can severely affect the function of your liver, but early diagnosis can limit further damage.

A type of ultrasound imaging called elastography directs painless low frequency vibrations into the liver to measure how quickly these vibrations move through it. A computer uses this information to create a visual map showing the stiffness of the liver.

By measuring the stiffness of your liver, elastography can look for disease in the liver and:

  • Detect and assess the severity of liver disease.
  • Guide treatment decisions.
  • Monitor response to treatment.
  • Determine the risk or presence of complications of liver disease.

Traditionally, liver fibrosis was assessed with biopsy – a needle is used to take a small sample of your liver tissue for examination under a microscope. However, this invasive technique can be associated with complications and can only sample a small portion of the liver.


With mild to moderate liver fibrosis, many people do not experience symptoms. As such, it can be challenging to diagnose chronic liver disease. Your health care practitioner might look at risk factors, such as heavy alcohol use, obesity, and diabetes, to help diagnose it, as well as results from blood tests.


Gherlan, G. S. (2015) “Liver ultrasound elastography: More than staging the disease.” World Journal of Hepatology. Accessed January 30, 2020.

Nall, R. (2018) “Liver Fibrosis.” www.healthline.com. Accessed January 30, 2020.

Radiological Society of North America (2019) “Elastography.” www.radiologyinfo.org. Accessed January 30, 2020.

U.S. National Library of Medicine (2019) “Fatty Liver Disease.” www.medlineplus.gov. Access January 30, 2020.

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