Levels of alanine aminotransferase confound use of transient elastography to diagnose fibrosis in patients with chronic hepatitis C virus infection

2012 Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology 10;8 (932-937 e931)

BACKGROUND & AIMS: Hepatic elastography (HE) is a noninvasive technique that measures liver stiffness and is used to diagnose hepatic fibrosis. It can help patients who are thought to have early-stage disease avoid a staging liver biopsy, but only when confounding variables that increase liver stiffness are excluded. Chronic inflammation from hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is not considered to be one of these variables. METHODS: We identified 684 patients with HCV and METAVIR fibrosis scores of 0-2 from a prospective, multi-institutional study of liver stiffness in 2880 patients with chronic liver disease. Patients were 49.6 +/- 9.0 years old, 64.3% were male, and they had an average body mass index of 26.7 +/- 4.1 kg/m(2). RESULTS: In a multivariate analysis, inflammation (based on histologic analysis) and level of alanine aminotransferase (ALT) were associated with liver stiffness. The chances of a patient having a level of stiffness that indicates cirrhosis increased with grade of inflammation and level of ALT. By using a conservative 14.5-kPa cutoff for the diagnosis of cirrhosis, grade 3 inflammation had an odds ratio of 9.10 (95% confidence interval, 2.49-33.4). Likewise, levels of ALT greater than 80 and 120 IU/L had odds ratios of 3.84 (95% confidence interval, 2.10-7.00) and 4.10 (95% confidence interval, 2.18-7.69), respectively. The effect of the level of ALT persisted when analysis was restricted to patients with fibrosis scores of F0 to F1. CONCLUSIONS: In patients with HCV infection and early-stage fibrosis, increased levels of ALT correlate with liver stiffness among patients in the lowest strata of fibrosis (METAVIR scores 0-2). Patients without fibrosis but high levels of ALT could have liver stiffness within the range for cirrhosis. Inflammation should be considered a confounding variable in analysis of liver stiffness.

Pubmed : 22289876