How much does alcohol contribute to the variability of hepatic fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C?

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In order to determine the contribution of alcohol intake to the severity of hepatic fibrosis in patients with chronic hepatitis C, we studied associations between various levels of alcohol intake, other demographic variables and semiquantitative liver histology in 434 cases of chronic hepatitis C. Clinical, demographic and disease-related data were entered into a relational database. Liver histology was scored according to Scheuer. The average daily alcohol intake for the year preceding liver biopsy (recent exposure) and for earlier periods (past exposure) was categorized into five levels of intake. One-third of patients gave a history of alcohol intake that had exceeded 40 g/day for at least 5 years. By univariate analysis, age, but not recent or past alcohol intake or other baseline variables, was associated with portal score (r = 0.14, P = 0.004), fibrosis score (r = 0.46, P < 0.001), total Scheuer score (r = 0.35, P < 0.001). However, by multivariate analysis, age (P < 0.001), past (but not present) alcohol intake (P < 0.001) and birth in Egypt (P = 0.006) were independently associated with fibrosis score. Age, past alcohol and birth place in Egypt contributed 27% to total variance of the hepatic fibrosis score, while age alone accounted for 23%. Age also independently predicted portal activity (P = 0.02) and total Scheuer score (P < 0.001), whereas past alcohol intake correlated with total Scheuer score (P = 0.002) but not with other histological indices. A separate multivariate analysis was performed on a more homogeneous subgroup of 196 patients who acquired hepatitis C by injection drug use. In this subgroup, age (P < 0.05) and past alcohol (P < 0.05) were independently associated with fibrosis score. In both the overall and subgroup analyses, there was a threshold level of past alcohol intake (>80 g/day) beyond which the risk of fibrosis increased significantly. It is concluded that toxic levels of alcohol exposure for at least 5 years accentuate hepatic fibrosis in hepatitis C but the influence of alcohol appears to be minor compared with age and other variables and is exerted only at toxic levels of intake.

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