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The burden of liver disease continues to increase in the UK, with liver cirrhosis reported to be the third most common cause of premature death. Iron overload, a condition that impacts liver health, was traditionally associated with genetic disorders such as hereditary haemochromatosis, however, it is now increasingly associated with obesity, type-2 diabetes and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The aim of this study was to assess the prevalence of elevated levels of liver iron within the UK Biobank imaging study in a cohort of 9108 individuals. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was undertaken at the UK Biobank imaging centre, acquiring a multi-echo spoiled gradient-echo single-breath-hold MRI sequence from the liver. All images were analysed for liver iron and fat (expressed as proton density fat fraction or PDFF) content using LiverMultiScan. Liver iron was measured in 97.3% of the cohort. The mean liver iron content was 1.32 ± 0.32 mg/g while the median was 1.25 mg/g (min: 0.85 max: 6.44 mg/g). Overall 4.82% of the population were defined as having elevated liver iron, above commonly accepted 1.8 mg/g threshold based on biochemical iron measurements in liver specimens obtained by biopsy. Further analysis using univariate models showed elevated liver iron to be related to male sex (p<10(-16), r2 = 0.008), increasing age (p<10(-16), r2 = 0.013), and red meat intake (p<10(-16), r2 = 0.008). Elevated liver fat (>5.6% PDFF) was associated with a slight increase in prevalence of elevated liver iron (4.4% vs 6.3%, p = 0.0007). This study shows that population studies including measurement of liver iron concentration are feasible, which may in future be used to better inform patient stratification and treatment.

Original publication




Journal article


PLoS One

Publication Date





Adult, Aged, Biological Specimen Banks, Cross-Sectional Studies, Fatty Liver, Female, Humans, Iron, Iron Overload, Liver, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Male, Middle Aged, Multivariate Analysis, United Kingdom