Objective: The hepatotoxic action of arsenic, when used as a therapeutic agent, has long been recognized. Data on liver involvement following chronic exposure to arsenic-contaminated water are scanty. We report the nature and degree of liver involvement on the basis of hospital-based and cohort follow-up studies in patients who consumed arsenic-contaminated drinking water for 1 to 15 years.
Methods: 248 patients with evidence of chronic arsenic toxicity underwent clinical and laboratory examinations including liver function tests and HBsAg status. Liver biopsy was done in 69 cases; in 29 patients, liver arsenic content was estimated by neutron activation analysis. A cohort follow up of 23 patients who took arsenic-free water for 2-12 years was also carried out.
Results: Hepatomegaly was present in 190 of 248 patients (76.6%). Noncirrhotic portal fibrosis (91.3%) was the predominant lesion in liver histology. The maximum arsenic content in liver was 6 mg/Kg (mean 1.46 [0.42], control value 0.16 [0.04]; p < 0.001); it was undetected in 6 of 29 samples studied. Cohort follow-up studies showed elevation of globulin in four cases and development of esophageal varices in one case.
Conclusion: We report the largest number of patients with liver disease due to chronic arsenicosis from drinking arsenic-contaminated water. Noncirrhotic portal fibrosis is the predominant lesion in this population.