Background & aims: Hepatic iron overload has been reported in various metabolic conditions, including the insulin-resistance syndrome (IRS) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The aim of this study was to show that such hepatic iron overload is part of a unique and unrecognized entity.
Methods: A total of 161 non-C282Y-homozygous patients with unexplained hepatic iron overload were included. We determined the age; sex; presence of IRS (1 or more of the following: body mass index of >25, diabetes, or hyperlipidemia); serum iron tests and liver iron concentration (LIC; reference value, <36 micromol/g); liver function test results; C282Y and H63D HFE mutations; and liver histological status.
Results: Patients were predominantly male and middle-aged. Most (94%) had IRS. Transferrin saturation was increased in 35% (median, 42%; range, 13%-94%). LIC ranged from 38 to 332 micromol/g (median, 90 micromol/g), and LIC/age ratio ranged from 0.5 to 4.8 (median, 1.8). Allelic frequencies of both HFE mutations were significantly increased compared with values in normal controls (C282Y, 20% vs. 9%; H63D, 30% vs. 17%), only because of a higher prevalence of compound heterozygotes. Patients with no HFE mutations had similar degrees of iron overload as those with other genotypes, except for compound heterozygotes, who had slightly more iron burden. Steatosis was present in 25% of patients and NASH in 27%. Portal fibrosis (grades 0-3) was present in 62% of patients (grade 2 or 3 in 12%) in association with steatosis, inflammation, and increased age. Sex ratio, IRS, transferrin saturation, and LIC did not vary with liver damage. Serum ferritin concentration, liver function test results, and fibrosis grade were more elevated in patients with steatosis and NASH than in others, but LIC and allelic frequencies of HFE mutations were similar.
Conclusions: This study shows that patients with unexplained hepatic iron overload are characterized by a mild to moderate iron burden and the nearly constant association of an IRS irrespective of liver damage.