AIMS--To assess histologically the amount of iron deposited in liver biopsy specimens from HIV positive patients; and to perform estimations of liver iron on tissue from patients with an increase in parenchymal stainable iron. To correlate the amount of blood transfused and the degree of iron overload. METHODS--Liver biopsy specimens (n = 120) from 109 HIV positive patients, 74 of whom had AIDS, were examined retrospectively and the amount of iron, as visualised with Perls's stain, was graded. Fibrosis was assessed using connective tissue stains. Estimations of liver iron were performed on tissue retrieved from paraffin wax blocks in cases with histological grade 3 or 4 iron overload. The amount of blood transfused before liver biopsy was determined from the notes for each patient. RESULTS--Fifteen of the 120 liver biopsy specimens had significantly increased amounts of iron in their hepatocytes, as assessed histologically, and this was confirmed in seven cases by measurement of liver iron. There was a close correlation between the amount of blood transfused and the degree of iron overload. In the initial biopsy specimens only one case showed portal tract expansion. Three of the five patients who had repeat biopsies, however, showed progressive fibrosis. CONCLUSION--Multiply transfused HIV positive patients may develop clinically important iron overload and are at risk of developing progressive fibrosis. Superimposed liver disease, especially viral hepatitis, in these high risk patients may exacerbate the effects of the iron overload.
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