Cryoglobulinemia due to chronic viral hepatitis infections is not a major problem in clinical practice
AuthorChristodoulou, D. K.; Dalekos, G. N.; Merkouropoulos, M. H.; Kistis, K. G.; Georgitsi, G.; Zervou, E.; Zachou, K.; Tsianos, E. V.
Background: Essential mixed cryoglobulinemia (EMC) is a systemic disease frequently associated with chronic viral hepatitis. This study was conducted in order to assess the prevalence of EMC in patients with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infections. We also evaluated the possible associations of EMC with (1) the clinical, virological, and histological status of liver disease; (2) the presence of EMC-related symptoms; and (3) the response rate to interferon-α (IFN-α) treatment, in an attempt to address whether EMC is a major problem in hepatitis patients. Methodology: A total of 154 consecutive patients (104 with HBV and 50 with HCV infection) were investigated for the presence of rheumatoid factor (RF), cryoglobulins, and EMC-related manifestations. Sixty-two HBV patients were chronic carriers of hepatitis B surface antigen, 29 had chronic hepatitis B, and 13 HBV cirrhosis. Thirty-five HCV patients had chronic hepatitis C and 15 HCV cirrhosis. HCV genotyping was performed in 44 patients. Results: The prevalence of cryoglobulins was significantly higher (P<0.001) in HCV patients (46%) than in HBV patients (13.4%). EMC was associated with a high frequency of RF detection, older age, and longer duration of viral diseases. Weakness or malaise, arthralgias, and purpura were significantly more frequent in cryoglobulin-positive patients. These manifestations, however, were mild in most of the patients. The EMC-related symptoms were significantly associated with the presence of HCV infection, increased levels of cryoglobulins, and RF detection (P<0.01, P<0.05, and P<0.000005, respectively). Worse liver histology was unrelated to a higher prevalence or increased levels of cryoglobulins in both HBV and HCV infection. There was no relationship between EMC and a specific HCV genotype. IFN-α therapy led to the disappearance of cryoglobulins and EMC-related manifestations in most cases. The response rate to IFN-α was similar in both groups of patients (with and without EMC). Conclusions: A higher prevalence of EMC was observed in HCV patients than in HBV patients. However, this finding was unrelated to overt clinical manifestations of EMC, a specific HCV genotype, or worse liver histology. The latter suggests that EMC does not contribute to liver injury and vice versa, that EMC pathogenesis is rather unrelated to the degree of liver injury. From a clinical point of view, testing for cryoglobulins seems reasonable only for HCV patients with EMC-related manifestations, since this may have therapeutic consequences. RF detection could be used primarily as a surrogate marker for the existence of cryoglobulins. © 2001 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.
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