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Am J Gastroenterol. 2001 Aug;96(8):2448-55.

Hyperferritinemia, iron overload, and multiple metabolic alterations identify patients at risk for nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

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1
Dipartimento di Medicina Interna, Università di Milano, Ospedale Maggiore IRCCS, Milan, Italy.

Abstract

OBJECTIVE:

The aim of this study was to define in patients with hyperferritinemia and normal transferrin saturation the relationships among hyperferritinemia, iron overload, HFE gene mutations, the presence of metabolic alterations, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).

METHODS:

Forty patients with increased serum ferritin, resistant to dietary restriction and normal transferrin saturation, 90 with ultrasonographic evidence of hepatic steatosis, and 60 obligate heterozygotes for hemochromatosis, all negative for alcohol abuse, hepatitis virus infections, and inflammation were studied. Transferrin saturation, serum ferritin, uric acid, lipids, glucose tolerance, insulin resistance, HFE gene mutations, liver histology, and hepatic iron concentration were analyzed.

RESULTS:

Of the 40 patients with hyperferritinemia, 29 (72%) had biochemical metabolic abnormalities, 18 of the 26 examined (69%) had insulin resistance, 26 (65%) had the presence of one of the two HFE gene mutations (normal controls, 33 of 128 [26%], p < 0.0001), and all had increased liver iron concentration. Thirty-one patients (77%) had histology compatible with NASH. At univariate analysis, NASH was significantly associated with the presence of metabolic alterations, the C282Y mutation, and severity of fibrosis. At multivariate analysis, NASH was associated with the coexistence of multiple metabolic alterations (odds ratio = 5.2, 95% CI = 0.95-28.7). The risk of having NASH augmented in the presence of higher values of ferritin and liver iron concentration. Among the 90 patients with ultrasonographic evidence of hepatic steatosis, 24 (27%) had increased serum ferritin with normal transferrin saturation, but only six remained hyperferritinemic after dietary restriction.

CONCLUSION:

Increased ferritin with normal transferrin saturation is frequently found in patients with hepatic steatosis, but it reflects iron overload only in those patients in whom it persists despite an appropriate diet. The simultaneous disorder of iron and glucose and/or lipid metabolism, in most of the cases associated with insulin resistance, is responsible for persistent hyperferritinemia and identifies patients at risk for NASH.

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