Chronic alcoholism in patients with chronic hepatitis C hastens disease progression toward development of cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. Approximately 30% of alcoholic patients with liver disease are infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV), the primary risk factor being a history of injection drug use. The histologic pattern in alcoholics is typically indistinguishable from nonalcoholic patients similarly infected with chronic hepatitis C. The mechanism(s) involved in alcohol-induced enhancement of chronic hepatitis C have not entirely been established but may involve increased viral replication, iron overload, and immune suppression. Still to be determined is the minimum amount of daily alcohol intake, if any, that can be ingested without enhancing progressive liver injury. However, chronic hepatitis C patients undergoing treatment with interferon must abstain from any alcohol intake, because the efficacy of interferon therapy is significantly lower in those who continue to drink. Future research efforts are needed in order to further delineate the epidemiology and pathogenesis of chronic hepatitis C in the alcoholic patient. Copyright (C) 1999 Excerpta Medica Inc.
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