Background: Research has shown that hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is associated with subclinical neuropsychological deficits in the absence of hepatic encephalopathy.
Methods: The current study assessed 32 Greek HCV patients without hepatic encephalopathy using standardized neuropsychological measures and compared them with 20 healthy controls and 29 hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infected patients. Patients and controls did not differ on age, educational level, depression or fatigue severity. Moreover, strict criteria were used to exclude any risk factor for cognitive impairment.
Results: Chronic HCV patients performed significantly worse than healthy controls on verbal learning and memory (P=0.029). However, hepatitis C and hepatitis B patients were similarly impaired in cognitive function, suggesting that the observed abnormalities are not HCV specific. HCV patients' cognitive capacity was further associated with liver disease severity as indicated by fibrosis stage (r=−0.602, P=0.011). In contrast, cognitive decline did not correlate with patients' psychological distress, indicating that biological mechanisms might be implicated in its pathogenesis. Finally, after controlling for age and educational level, cirrhotic and non-cirrhotic patients appeared to be equally impaired.
Conclusions: In conclusion, this study confirmed previous findings and added further to the existing literature concerning the negative influence of HCV infection on cognition.