Background: Impaired autonomic function has been described in patients with chronic liver diseases from different aetiologies, and has proven to be a poor prognostic indicator. To date, it is not known how chronic hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection affects the autonomic nervous system. Aims: In the present study, we compared cardiovagal autonomic function in patients with chronic HCV infection and healthy controls and examined the relation between autonomic function and serum levels of aminotransferases, HCV RNA, cryoglobulins, albumin and glucose. Methods: Autonomic function was assessed in 45 treatment-naïve patients with chronic HCV infection and in 40 healthy controls by determining spontaneous baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) and heart rate variability (HRV) indices. The R-R interval was determined by electrocardiogramrecording; continuous radial artery pressure was monitored simultaneously by applanation tonometry. Laboratory analyses and quantitative polymerase chain reaction for serum HCV RNA level were performed by standard procedures. Results: BRS and HRV time and frequency domain indices were lower in patients with HCV infection compared with healthy controls [7.1±3.4 vs. 11.5±6.5 ms/mmHg for BRS, 168.5±160.9 vs. 370.7±349.4 ms2 for low-frequency HRV (mean±SD); Po0.01]. Multivariate analysis showed that autonomic dysfunction in HCV-infected patients correlated with elevated alanine aminotransferase levels, but was not associated with serum HCV RNA levels and cryoglobulins. Conclusion: Our results suggest that impaired autonomic function is caused by chronic HCV infection. Further studies are needed, however, to identify the underlying mechanisms.
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