Background: Liver disturbance in rheumatoid diseases results not only from liver disease associated with the rheumatoid diseases themselves but also from various other causes. This study aimed to elucidate the clinical features of liver disturbance in rheumatoid diseases, focusing on the cause of this disturbance.
Methods: A clinicopathological study was performed in 306 patients (106 with systemic lupus erythematosus, 71 with Sjögren's syndrome, 59 with rheumatoid arthritis, 27 with scleroderma, 30 with polymyositis, and 13 with polyarteritis nodosa).
Results: Liver disturbance occurred in 43% of these patients and resulted from various causes. Its degree and duration varied from one cause to another. Liver disease associated with rheumatoid diseases was the leading cause of the liver disturbance in these patients and was characterized by mild and transient liver disturbance (maximum alanine aminotransferase [ALT] level during the study period, 68 +/- 8 IU/ml; maximum alkaline phosphatase [ALP] level, 410 +/- 31 IU/ml; duration of liver disturbance, 6 +/- 2 months). Most patients with this type of liver disease showed minimal change in liver histology, although two-thirds of those evaluated by the international scoring system for autoimmune hepatitis (AIH) were classified as "probable" or "definite". Eight of 14 patients with histologically proven chronic hepatitis or cirrhosis were infected with hepatotropic virus (7 with hepatitis C virus [HCV] and 1 with hepatitis B virus [HBV]). Five of 9 patients in whom the hepatic lesion progressed had hepatotropic virus infection (4 with HCV and 1 with HBV), and the other 4 patients suffered from autoimmune liver diseases.
Conclusions: Liver disease associated with rheumatoid diseases was the leading cause of liver disturbance in these patients and was characterized by mild and transient liver disturbance, whereas progressive liver diseases were often associated with hepatotropic virus, mainly HCV, or autoimmune liver diseases. Liver histology is indispensable for differentiating AIH from liver disease associated with rheumatoid diseases.