, Volume 42, Issue 5, pp 1094-1099

Pruritus in Chronic Hepatitis C (Association with High Serum Bile Acids, Advanced Pathology, and Bile Duct Abnormalities)

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Pruritus is a common symptom of chroniccholestatic liver diseases but is considered rare inchronic hepatitis. We observed pruritus to be anunusually common complaint in patients with advancedchronic hepatitis C. We reviewed the records of 175chronic hepatitis C patients to identify patients withsevere, diffuse, unexplained pruritus; 12 consecutiveprospective patients undergoing liver biopsy for chronic hepatitis C served as controls.Assessment included laboratory biochemical tests andassessment of liver pathology by stage, grade, hepaticactivity index, and a bile duct score. Pruritus waspresent in nine (5.1%) patients. Serum AST, ALT,alkaline phosphatase, GGTP, total bilirubin, andferritin were similar in pruritics and controls.Pruritics had higher serum bile acids (2028.4 ±223.1 mmol/liter vs 423.1 ± 194.3, P < 0.001), highertransferrin saturation (57.5 ± 6.8% vs 33.2± 3.3, P < 0.01), and lower HCV RNA by bDNA(24.5 ± 12.7 ± 10 vs 172.7 ± 54.1× 105, P < 0.05). Pathology revealedcirrhosis in 6/9 (66.6%) pruritics vs 1/12 (8.3%) controls (P < 0.01).Pruritics had higher pathologic stage (3.7 ± 0.2vs 2.2 ± 0.4, P < 0.01), grade (4.4 ±0.2 vs 2.1 ± 0.2, P < 0.001), activity index(14.3 ± 1.9 vs 8.6 ± 1.9, P < 0.025),and bile duct score (7.6 ± 0.6 vs 4.7 ± 0.4, P <0.01). Of eight pruritics treated withIFN-α2b, two had complete ALT responseand one relapsed. Pruritus followed a relapsing courseand only three patients partially responded despite a variety of interventions. Inconclusion, pruritus is a common complication ofadvanced CHC. Its presence is associated with high serumbile acids, advanced pathology and bile ductabnormalities. The clinical course of pruritus is relapsingand response to therapy is inconsistent. These featuressuggest that pruritus in CHC has a pathogenesis that mayvary from that of chronic cholestaticdiseases.