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Abstract

Hepatic fibrosis is the main determinant of clinical outcomes of chronic hepatitis C. Liver histology is frequently considered the gold standard for assessing hepatic fibrosis. However, liver biopsy is associated with sampling error, interobserver variability, and potential complications. Thus, there is a need for simple, inexpensive, and reliable noninvasive means to assess disease severity in patients with chronic hepatitis C. Clinical examination is unreliable in differentiating different stages of compensated liver disease. Among the routine laboratory tests, decreased platelet count, increase in the ratio of aspartate to alanine aminotransferase (AST/ALT), and prolonged prothrombin time are the earliest indicators of cirrhosis and portal hypertension. Individual serum fibrosis markers have limited accuracy in predicting hepatic fibrosis. Indices composed of a panel of markers correlate better with histological fibrosis, but their reliability requires further validation. Currently, noninvasive monitoring of patients with chronic hepatitis C relies on clinical evaluation, routine laboratory tests, and ultrasound and endoscopic surveillance in patients with cirrhosis. Initial evaluation should focus on assessment of activity and stage of liver disease for prognostication and decisions regarding treatment, and to rule out coinfections and other causes of liver disease. Subsequent follow-up should focus on detection of liver disease progression and the need for treatment. The frequency of monitoring and the tests used will depend on the patient's age, stage of liver disease, and comorbid conditions. There is an urgent need to develop and validate noninvasive tests that can accurately reflect the full spectrum of hepatic inflammation and fibrosis in chronic hepatitis C. (HEPATOLOGY 2002;36:S57–S64).