Published online Mar 21, 2019. doi: 10.3748/wjg.v25.i11.1307
Peer-review started: January 18, 2019
First decision: January 30, 2019
Revised: February 20, 2019
Accepted: February 22, 2019
Article in press: February 22, 2019
Published online: March 21, 2019
With the increasing number of individuals with diabetes and obesity, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming increasingly prevalent, affecting one-quarter of adults worldwide. The spectrum of NAFLD ranges from simple steatosis or nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NAFLD, especially NASH, may progress to fibrosis, leading to cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. NAFLD can impose a severe economic burden, and patients with NAFLD-related terminal or deteriorative liver diseases have become one of the main groups receiving liver transplantation. The increasing prevalence of NAFLD and the severe outcomes of NASH make it necessary to use effective methods to identify NAFLD. Although recognized as the gold standard, biopsy is limited by its sampling bias, poor acceptability, and severe complications, such as mortality, bleeding, and pain. Therefore, noninvasive methods are urgently needed to avoid biopsy for diagnosing NAFLD. This review discusses the current noninvasive methods for assessing NAFLD, including steatosis, NASH, and NAFLD-related fibrosis, and explores the advantages and disadvantages of measurement tools. In addition, we analyze potential noninvasive biomarkers for tracking disease processes and monitoring treatment effects, and explore effective algorithms consisting of imaging and nonimaging biomarkers for diagnosing advanced fibrosis and reducing unnecessary biopsies in clinical practice.
Core tip: Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming a major public health issue worldwide. Currently, biopsy is the gold standard for the diagnosis of NAFLD, but it has well-known limitations including sampling errors and severe complications. Thus, noninvasive methods are best alterations to avoid the biopsy. Herein, the noninvasive methods currently available for the assessment of NAFLD in adults are discussed, and we further evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of different assessing tools. In addition, we also analyze the potential of noninvasive biomarkers and their application for tracking NAFLD progression and monitoring the treatment response.