November 17, 2011

Patients With Chronic Viral Hepatitis Should Be Tested for Vitamin D

Gastrienterology & Endoscopy News

Low Prevalence of Testing Despite High Prevalence of Insufficiency

By David Wild

Chicago—Retrospective findings presented at the 2011 Digestive Disease Week meeting revealed that 64% of patients with chronic hepatitis B virus (HBV) or hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection have low levels of vitamin D (abstract Su1302). In light of the results, researchers are urging clinicians to monitor vitamin D levels in all patients with chronic viral hepatitis.

“If we treat vitamin D deficiency, we can potentially decrease the high rate of osteopenia and osteoporosis in this population, including bone loss related to some of the antiviral therapies” said co-investigator Maya Gambarin-Gelwan, MD, assistant professor of clinical medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York City.

Up to 53% of patients with viral hepatitis–related cirrhosis develop osteoporosis. Given the risk for bone loss associated with low levels of serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D (25[OH]D), investigators set out to determine the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency among patients with HBV and HCV treated at Weill Cornell Medical Center. They defined vitamin D deficiency as serum 25[OH]D less than 20 ng/mL and vitamin D insufficiency as levels between 20 and 30 ng/mL.

Among 2,312 patients with chronic viral hepatitis seen at the center between 2007 and 2009, only 17% (395 of 2,312) had been tested for vitamin D levels. Of those who underwent vitamin D testing, 31% (122 of 395) were vitamin D insufficient and 33% (132 of 395) were vitamin D deficient. The prevalence of vitamin D insufficiency was similar among the 29% (115 of 395) of patients with chronic viral hepatitis who had cirrhosis and those who did not (26% vs. 33%, respectively; P=0.10). However, the difference in vitamin D deficiency among patients with cirrhosis and those without cirrhosis was significant (44% vs. 29%; P=0.01).

Interestingly, vitamin D insufficiency was more prevalent among those infected with HBV than among those infected with HCV (73% vs. 60%, respectively; P=0.01). Although she suspects that ethnicity may play a role in this difference, Dr. Gambarin-Gelwan said that her data set did not include adequate information on ethnicity to draw a conclusion.

Zobair Younossi, MD, MPH, a liver specialist who was not involved in the study, said that prior studies have shown low vitamin D levels tend to be more common in patients with advanced stage fibrosis and cirrhosis. “However, this study shows insufficiency can also be seen in non-cirrhotic patients with hepatitis B and C, and particularly in those with chronic hepatitis B,” said Dr. Younossi, vice president for research, Inova Health System, and chairman, Department of Medicine, Inova Fairfax Hospital, Falls Church, Va.

Dr. Gambarin-Gelwan said that she hopes her research will spur clinicians to routinely monitor vitamin D levels in patients with chronic HBV and HCV infection. She said the small percentage of patients who were screened for vitamin D levels demonstrates that “gastroenterologists and hepatologists are paying too little attention to vitamin D levels.”


Dr. Gambarin-Gelwan has nothing to disclose. Dr. Younossi reported relationships with Salix Pharmaceuticals, Tibotec Pharmaceuticals and Vertex Pharmaceuticals.


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