Five percutaneous biopsy and 17 necropsy liver specimens were analysed histologically and chemically for iron content in 22 patients receiving dialysis for chronic renal failure, 13 of whom were given intravenous iron-dextran. Brissot scores for assessing histological hepatic iron deposition and chemically measured liver iron concentrations correlated closely. Both variables depended on total cumulative dose of iron, and to a lesser extent, on time since the last dose. Fibrosis (seen in five patients) was minimal and non-specific. Electron microscopic examination showed that there was no generalised damage and confirmed the presence of iron in the hepatocytes in the form of ferritin. High liver iron concentrations, in excess of 1000 micrograms/100 mg dry weight, were seen in two patients. Four others given comparable cumulated amounts (18-23 g iron) did not have such high concentrations. Plasma ferritin concentrations were high in eight patients, some with and some without fibrosis. The risk of temporarily high iron deposition in the liver causing damage seemed to be minimal when weighed against the benefit of increased haemoglobin in most of the patients. Intravenous iron treatment merits further evaluation, particularly with the advent of erythropoietin treatment, which requires continuously available iron.
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