To study the prevalence of significant hepatic histopathology in chronic hepatitis B (CHB) patients with alanine aminotransferase (ALT) ≤ twice upper limit of normal (ULN) and its association with age, HBeAg status, hepatitis B virus (HBV)-DNA level and viral genotype.METHODS:
A prospective study was conducted over a 3-year period in treatment-naive CHB patients with ALT ≤ twice ULN. Patients with a history of acute flare hepatitis, use of alcohol and hepatotoxic drugs, hepatitis C, hepatitis D and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) co-infection were excluded from the study. Hepatic histopathology was assessed according to the METAVIR scoring system.RESULTS:
A total of 145 patients were recruited, 81 (55.9%) of whom were male. The patients’ mean age was 41.50 ± 10.74 years (range 16–70 years). Significant hepatic inflammation was found in 59.3% of these patients, and significant hepatic fibrosis was found in 62.1%, the latter being associated with hepatitis B e antigen status, ALT levels and serum HBV-DNA, but not with their age group or viral genotype. Significant hepatic fibrosis was found in 24 of 35 CHB patients (68.6%) who were previously considered in an immunotolerance phase.CONCLUSIONS
The prevalence of significant hepatic histopathology in CHB patients with serum ALT levels ≤ twice ULN is high. Delayed antiviral treatment can be harmful.