Objectives: To establish the prevalence of increased hepatic iron content in patients with hepatitis C virus-related chronic hepatitis and to assess the accuracy of serum iron and ferritin in detecting tissue iron overload.
Methods: Serum iron, serum ferritin, and hepatic iron content were determined in 81 consecutive patients undergoing liver biopsy for chronic ALT elevation and hepatitis C virus infection. Moreover, in a subgroup of 28 patients, outcome of a 6-month course of interferon (IFN) treatment (6 million U of recombinant IFN, three times weekly) was determined after a mean follow-up of 24 +/- 6 months and the outcome was compared with the pretreatment values of hepatic iron content.
Results: Elevated serum iron or ferritin levels were detected in approximately 40% of patients, but elevated hepatic iron content was observed in only eight patients (10%). One of these patients had a hepatic iron index > 1.9, indicating hemochromatosis. Liver iron content and serum iron levels were not correlated. No differences in hepatic iron content were observed among patients with a sustained response to IFN (seven patients), short-term responders (seven patients), or nonresponders (14 patients).
Conclusions: Ten percent of patients with chronic hepatitis C have elevated hepatic iron content. These patients cannot be identified using serum markers of iron status. The relationship between liver iron and response to IFN treatment requires further prospective investigations.