Hepatic vein transit times using a microbubble agent can predict disease severity non-invasively in patients with hepatitis C

Lim, A. K. P.; Taylor-Robinson, S. D.; Patel, N.; Eckersley, R. J.; Goldin, R. D.; Hamilton, G.; Foster, G. R.; Thomas, H. C.; Cosgrove, D. O.; Blomley, M. J. K.
January 2005
Gut;Jan2005, Vol. 54 Issue 1, p128
Academic Journal
Background and aims: A reliable non-invasive assessment of the severity of diffuse liver disease is much needed. We investigated the utility of hepatic vein transit times (HVTT) for grading and staging diffuse liver disease in a cohort of patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection using an ultrasound microbubble contrast agent as a tracer. Materials and methods: Eighty five untreated patients with biopsy proven HCV induced liver disease were studied prospectively. All were HCV RNA positive on polymerase chain reaction testing. Based on their histological fibrosis (F) and necroinflammatory (NI) scores, untreated patients were divided into mild hepatitis (F ⩽ 2/6, NI ⩽ 3/18), moderate/severe hepatitis (3 ⩽ F <6 or NI ⩾ 4), and cirrhosis (F = 6/6) groups. In addition, 20 age matched healthy volunteers were studied. After an overnight fast, a bolus of contrast agent (Levovist) was injected into an antecubital vein and spectral Doppler signals were recorded from both the right and middle hepatic veins for analysis. HYTTs were calculated as the time from injection to a sustained rise in Doppler signal >10% above baseline. The Doppler signals from the carotid artery were also measured in 60 patients and carotid delay times (CDT) calculated as the difference between carotid and hepatic vein arrival times. The earliest HVTT in each patient was used for analysis. Results: Mean (SEM) HVTT for the control, mild hepatitis, moderate/severe hepatitis, and cirrhosis groups showed a monotonic decrease of 38.1 (2.8), 38.8 (2.4), 26.0(2.4), and 15.8 (0.8) seconds, respectively. Mean (SEM) CDT for the control, mild hepatitis, moderate/severe hepatitis, and cirrhosis patients again showed progressive shortening of 30.3 (2.6), 25.9 (2.6), 14.8 (2.1), and 5.6 (1.2) seconds, respectively. There were significant differences between the groups for HVTT (ANOVA, p<0.001) and CDT (ANOVA, p<0.001). There was 100% sensitivity and 80% specificity for diagnosing cirrhosis and 95% sensitivity and 86% specificity for differentiating mild hepatitis from more severe liver disease. Conclusion: We have shown, for the first time, that HVTT using an ultrasound microbubble contrast agent can assess HCV related liver disease with clear differentiation between mild hepatitis and cirrhosis. There were significant differences between these two groups and the moderate/severe hepatitis group. CDT offers no additional benefit or greater differentiation than NYU and can be omitted, thus simplifying this technique. HVTT may complement liver biopsy and may also be a useful alternative for assessment of liver disease in patients who have contraindications to biopsy.


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