Iron overload in patients with chronic viral hepatitis: how common is it?

Am J Gastroenterol. 1997 Aug;92(8):1298-1301.


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.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Antiviral Agents / therapeutic use
  • Female
  • Ferritins / blood
  • Hepatitis C / blood
  • Hepatitis C / complications*
  • Hepatitis C / therapy
  • Humans
  • Interferon-alpha / therapeutic use
  • Iron / blood
  • Iron Overload / blood
  • Iron Overload / complications*
  • Iron Overload / diagnosis
  • Iron Overload / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antiviral Agents
  • Interferon-alpha
  • Ferritins
  • Iron