BETTER MONITORING OF LIVER ENZYMES IS NEEDED TO SAVE LIVES OF PEOPLE WITH HIV, SAYS UNIVERSITY OF PITTSBURGH RESEARCHER
Related study shows association between HIV drugs and liver cancer
PITTSBURGH, July 8, 2002- Mild to moderate elevations in two
liver enzymes - increments that are commonly ignored by most physicians
- are related to an increased risk of death in people with HIV, according
to a University of Pittsburgh researcher who presented the findings
July 8 at the XIV International AIDS Conference in Barcelona.
The enzymes are alanine transamine (ALT) and aspartamine transamine
"Up to one third of HIV patients have mild to moderate elevations in ALT and AST, yet physicians largely disregard the readings unless they are two to four times above the normal range," said Amy Justice, M.D., associate professor of health services research at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and staff physician at the Pittsburgh Veterans Administration Medical Center.
"Our study shows that even patients whose elevations are mild
to moderate have a death rate that is nearly twice that of patients
with mid-range normal levels. This association with increased mortality
suggests that any elevation in ALT and AST should be addressed."
Elevations in these enzymes signal injury to liver cells and, in some cases, to other cells in the body. The condition can result from highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART), viral hepatitis or alcohol abuse, all of which are toxic to liver cells. Liver failure is the most common cause of death in people with AIDS.
While ALT and AST testing is routine in monitoring of HIV patients,
elevations are not typically addressed unless they are more than twice
what is considered normal. The standard remedy for extremely high ALT
and AST levels is to stop or change antiretroviral medications and to
counsel patients to stop drinking alcohol. Mild to moderate elevations
(0.5 up to 2 times the normal level) currently are not treated.
The Pittsburgh-led study was an analysis of data on more than 5,700
participants from two observational studies: Collaborations in HIV Research
- U.S. (CHORUS), composed largely of white men who contracted HIV from
homosexual activity, and women who contracted HIV from heterosexual
activity or intravenous drug use; and the Veterans Aging Cohort Study
(VACS), composed mainly of African American men who contracted HIV from
heterosexual activity or intravenous drug use.
Study participants with mild to moderate elevations had an increased
risk of death that was 1.73 times the risk of those with mid-range normal
enzyme levels. Those with two or more times the normal enzyme levels
had a 5.06 increased risk of death. Results were consistent in both
the CHORUS and VACS cohorts.
"The fact that the findings were similar in two very different
cohorts suggests that these results apply to all HIV patients,"
said Dr. Justice. "Furthermore, the fact that the most common current
cause of death among people with HIV is liver failure suggests that
liver injury may be a major limiting factor in the effectiveness of
current HIV treatment."
In a related poster on display at the conference, Dr. Justice and colleagues
relay findings from a study showing that incidence of liver cancer among
HIV-positive veterans since the advent of HAART is nearly twice as high
as it is for HIV-negative veterans. The researchers indicate that possible
reasons for the increase may include drug toxicity and viral hepatitis.
"Chronic viral hepatitis is known to substantially increase the risk of liver cancer," said Dr. Justice. "Additional research must be done to determine whether HAART exacerbates this risk or only helps HIV-positive patients live long enough to suffer the consequences of other chronic diseases such as cancer."
The study on AST and ALT was a collaboration among the University of Pittsburgh, the Veterans Administration and the VACS and CHORUS project teams. Major funders for VACS include the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse, the National Institute on Aging, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the National Institute for Mental Health and the Veterans Administration. CHORUS is supported by GlaxoSmithKline, Inc.
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