BACKGROUND & AIMS:
As many as 70% of individuals with chronic hepatitis C (CHC) are managed solely in primary care. The aims of this study were to determine the prevalence of elevated liver stiffness measurement (LSM) in a cohort of community managed patients with CHC and to evaluate predictors of advanced liver disease and liver-related events.
A prospective cohort of adult patients with CHC were recruited from 21 primary care practices throughout Victoria, Australia. Inclusion criteria included the presence of CHC for >6 months, no recent (<18 months) specialist input and no history of hepatocellular carcinoma. Clinical assessment, LSM and phlebotomy were carried out in primary care. A hospital cohort was recruited for comparison. Participants were followed longitudinally and monitored for liver-related events.
Over 26 months, 780 community patients were recruited and included in the analysis. The median LSM was 6.9 kPa in the community, with 16.5% of patients at risk of advanced fibrosis (LSM ≥12.5 kPa); of these 8.5% had no laboratory features of advanced liver disease. The proportion at risk of cirrhosis was no different between the community and hospital cohorts (p = 0.169). At-risk alcohol consumption, advancing age, elevated body mass index and alanine aminotransferase were independent predictors of elevated LSM. Over a median follow-up of 15.2 months, liver-related events occurred in 9.3% of those with an LSM ≥12.5 kPa. An LSM of 24 kPa had the highest predictive power for liver-related events (hazard ratio152; p <0.001).
The prevalence of advanced fibrosis, as determined by LSM, in primary care managed CHC is significant and comparable to a hospital cohort. Furthermore, this study supports the use of LSM as a community screening tool in a CHC population and indicates a possible role in predicting liver-related events.
The prevalence of advanced liver disease in primary care managed hepatitis C is unknown. Our data suggests that rates of advanced fibrosis in the community are significant (16.5%), often underdiagnosed and comparable to rates seen in specialist referral centres. Liver stiffness measurement is a feasible community screening tool prior to hepatitis C therapy and can predict liver-related adverse events.