Suicide risk in hepatitis C and during interferon-alpha therapy: a review and clinical update

J Viral Hepat. 2011 Mar;18(3):153-60. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2893.2010.01393.x. Epub 2010 Nov 10.


Chronic hepatitis C (CHC) affects over 170 million individuals worldwide and is a growing public health concern. Despite the availability of CHC treatment, specifically interferon-α and ribavirin, treatment of CHC is limited by concerns about psychiatric side effects including risks of suicide. Although depression has been the focus of neuropsychiatric complications from interferon-alpha (IFNα), emerging evidence has contributed to our understanding of IFNα-induced suicidal ideation and attempts. Using Pubmed, we performed a literature review of all English articles published between 1989 and April 1, 2010 on suicide in untreated and IFNα-treated patients with CHC. References in all identified review articles were scanned and included in our review. A total of 17 articles were identified. Studies have suggested that the first 12 weeks of IFNα therapy are the high-risk period. Moreover, the emergence of suicidal ideation can be linked to neuropsychiatric abnormalities, specifically serotonin depletion. Pretreatment with antidepressant treatment should be reserved for high-risk groups, as this may reduce the risk of depression and thus decrease the suicide risk indirectly. Although there is a paucity of literature on suicide and suicide risk during IFNα therapy for CHC, recent studies on IFNα-induced depression have provided some potential insights into suicide in this patient population. Further research examining the effects of pharmacological and nonpharmacological interventions on suicide risk during IFNα treatment is needed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Antiviral Agents / adverse effects
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / drug therapy*
  • Hepatitis C, Chronic / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Interferon Type I / adverse effects
  • Interferon Type I / therapeutic use*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Ribavirin / adverse effects
  • Ribavirin / therapeutic use
  • Risk Factors
  • Suicide / psychology*


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon Type I
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Ribavirin