Background & aims: Hemosiderosis may have a detrimental effect on some chronic liver diseases. The aim of this study was to determine the prevalence and diagnostic implications of hemosiderosis in cirrhosis.
Methods: Tissue iron in 447 cirrhotic livers was studied histologically and chemically.
Results: Positive iron staining was found in 145 cases (32.4%), and increased chemical hepatic iron concentration was found in 91 cases (20.3%), including 38 cases (8.5%) with hepatic iron overload in the hemochromatosis range, defined by an iron index of > or = 1.9 (iron index equals hepatic iron concentration in micromoles per gram divided by age). However, homozygous hemochromatosis seemed to have caused the cirrhosis in only 5 instances. Stainable iron was found in 22%-67% of the cases with nonbiliary cirrhosis but in only 7%-20% of cases with biliary cirrhosis. Most available pretransplant biopsy specimens failed to show evidence of homozygous hemochromatosis.
Conclusions: Iron overload is very common in many types of nonbiliary cirrhosis but rare in biliary cirrhosis. The hemosiderosis of affected livers seems to be acquired and to occur rapidly once cirrhosis has developed; cirrhosis alone may cause iron accumulation. In the presence of cirrhosis, hepatic iron indices of >1.9 should not be interpreted as proof of homozygous hemochromatosis.