Ultrasound detection of abdominal lymphadenomegaly in subjects with hepatitis C virus infection and persistently normal transaminase: a predictive index of liver histology severity

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The indications for liver biopsy in anti-HCV-positive patients with persistently normal alanine aminotransferase levels are not clearly established. Recent studies have correlated the presence of abdominal lymphoadenomegaly with disease severity in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Our study aimed to evaluate the frequency of abdominal lymphoadenomegaly in an anti-HCV positive blood donor population with persistently normal alanine aminotransferase and the relationship of abdominal lymphoadenomegaly with the severity of liver changes.


Eighty-six anti-HCV positive blood donors (58 M, 28 F) with normal alanine aminotransferase were followed up for a median of 31 months (range 12-50). To evaluate the frequency of abdominal lymphoadenomegaly, all patients underwent ultrasound scan. The common parameters of liver function as well as serum HCV RNA levels were determined. Histological changes were evaluated both in a conventional manner and using the numerical scoring systems of Knodell and Desmet.


Of the 86 donors 68 (79%) maintained persistently normal alanine aminotransferase levels during follow-up, and abdominal lymphoadenomegaly was present in 15 of them (22.0%). The remaining 18 donors (21%) showed rises in alanine aminotransferase above normal levels during the follow-up and seven of them (38%) had abdominal lymphoadenomegaly (p=n.s.). In the subjects with normal alanine aminotransferase, there were no significant differences in the common parameters of liver function and the serum presence of HCV RNA between those with or without abdominal lymphoadenomegaly. Normal liver was found in five patients without abdominal lymphoadenomegaly, but never in patients with abdominal lymphoadenomegaly. Analysis with the Mantel-Haenszel test showed a trend toward more serious changes in patients with abdominal lymphoadenomegaly (chi-square MH=9.5, p<0.003). Histological changes did not differ when Knodell's score was used; in contrast, staging, evaluated by Desmet's score, and periportal necrosis were significantly higher in subjects with abdominal lymphoadenomegaly(p<0.01 and p<0.004, respectively). Multiple logistic regression showed a significant relation between histological changes and the presence in serum of HCV RNA (p<0.004) and gamma-globulin (p<0.002), and abdominal lymphoadenomegalyp<0.003).


Our study shows a prevalence of 22.0% of abdominal lymphomadenomegaly in anti-HCV positive subjects with normal alanine aminotransferase values and a relationship with the degree of liver histology change. Therefore, we suggest that the evidence of abdominal lymphoadenomegaly in these patients could be an indication to perform liver biopsy.

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