Background/aims: Up to 50% of patients infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) complain of chronic fatigue and difficulties in concentration and memory. The aim of the present study was to seek evidence for the presence of central nervous system involvement in HCV infected patients with only mild liver disease.
Methods: Thirty HCV infected patients with normal liver function, 15 of whom were identified as having mild and 15 moderate to severe fatigue using the fatigue impact scale, underwent neurological and neuropsychological examination, electroencephalography (EEG) and cerebral proton magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and spectroscopy (MRS). Fifteen healthy volunteers, matched for age and educational attainment, served as controls.
Results: In comparison to the healthy controls the patients with HCV infection showed evidence of cognitive impairment, primarily attention and higher executive functions, higher levels of anxiety and depression and impairment of quality of life. In addition they showed a significant decrease of the N-acetyl-aspartate/creatine ratio in the cerebral cortex on 1H MRS while the EEG was slowed in 25%. In general the deficits were more marked in the patients with moderate rather than mild fatigue.
Conclusions: The data provide evidence of central nervous system involvement in patients with HCV infection.