HCV carriers with normal alanine aminotransferase levels: healthy persons or severely ill patients? Dealing with an everyday clinical problem

2010 European Journal of Internal Medicine 21;2 (57-61)

Approximately 30% of patients with chronic HCV infection show persistently normal ALT levels. Although formerly referred to as 'healthy' or 'asymptomatic' HCV carriers, and thus historically excluded from antiviral treatment, it has now become clear that the majority of these patients have some degree of histological liver damage that may be significant in up to 20% of patients and might progress toward a more severe degree of liver fibrosis. A significant proportion of patients (> or =20%) experience periods of increased serum ALT (flare) associated with enhanced disease progression. However, controversies still exist in clinical practice regarding the definition of 'persistent' ALT normality, the virological and histological features of these subjects, the need for liver biopsy, the role of non invasive tools for the assessment of liver fibrosis (transient hepatic elastography, fibroscan), and the natural history and optimal management of chronic hepatitis C with normal ALT. The advent of new therapeutic options (pegylated interferons plus ribavirin) has shifted treatment targets toward eradication of underlying infection, with therapy decision based on age, severity of disease and likelihood of response rather than on aminotransferase levels. This review does approach the main unresolved issues on this topic in the form of a dialog between a hepatologist and a patient with HCV infection but normal alanine aminotransferase levels, trying to give evidence-based answers to the more frequently asked questions from patients and their physicians.

Pubmed : 20206870