Background and objective: Interferon-α treatment is associated with a large number of adverse effects. Depressive symptoms are not unexpected, and potentially dangerous psychiatric adverse effects can induce life-threatening conditions. We compared the incidence of depressive symptoms in patients with chronic hepatitis C during treatment with pegylated interferon-α-2a (IFNα-2a) and pegylated interferon-α-2b (IFNα-2b).
Patients and design: We randomly divided 186 subjects with chronic hepatitis C into two treatment groups: group A, treated with IFNα-2a, and group B, treated with IFNα-2b. Treatment was continued for up to 48 weeks. Liver biopsy and hepatitis C virus RNA assay were carried out in all patients. Depressive symptoms and the prevalence of psychiatric adverse effects during treatment with IFN were evaluated using the Hamilton Depression Rating Scale, the Zung Self-Rating Depression Scale, and the Structured Clinical Interview for Diagnostic and Statistic Manual-IV axis disorders.
Results: At baseline 53% of subjects in group A and 57% of subjects in group B presented with depressive symptoms; at 12 weeks we found a high incidence of depressive symptoms in both groups (group A 61% and group B 65%) and three cases of life-threatening psychiatric symptoms (i.e. psychosis and delirium requiring discontinuation of antiviral therapy and admission to a psychiatric unit) in group A.
Conclusions: Long-term administration of IFN can be associated with serious psychiatric adverse effects. It is very important that psychiatric symptoms are diagnosed early in IFN treatment so to improve treatment compliance and prevent fatal and/or life-threatening adverse events, as were documented in some subjects treated with IFNα-2a in our study.