Tue Aug 13, 5:35 PM ET
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Infection with the hepatitis C virus may increase
the risk of erectile dysfunction, the results of a new study suggest.
The virus itself may play a direct role in causing erectile dysfunction, the
findings suggest, since investigators took into account liver failure and
treatment for hepatitis C, both of which are suspected of increasing the risk
of erectile dysfunction in men with hepatitis C.
Nearly 4 million American have hepatitis C, making it the most common chronic
viral infection in the US. Chronic inflammation of the liver develops in many
patients, and about 20% of people with hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis, a
severe and sometimes fatal scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis increases the
risk of liver cancer.
Hepatitis is spread through contact with blood and other body fluids, but the
route of transmission remains undetermined in a substantial percentage of
infections. People who share needles to inject drugs have a high risk of
contracting the disease.
Cases of erectile dysfunction in men with hepatitis C have been reported, but
it is unclear whether the blame should be placed on the virus itself or on
poor liver function caused by the infection. A drug used to treat hepatitis
C, interferon alfa, is another prime suspect.
A team led by Dr. Clodoveo Ferri of the University of Pisa in Italy, compared
the frequency of erectile dysfunction in 207 men with hepatitis C and 207
healthy men. Among men with hepatitis C, 39% had erectile dysfunction,
compared with 14% of healthy men, according to a report in the August 14th
issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association ( news - web sites).
But neither the presence of liver failure nor interferon alfa therapy seemed
to affect a man's odds of having erectile dysfunction, according to the
"Nonetheless, both liver failure and interferon alfa may also contribute to
erectile dysfunction, and treatment should be individualized," Ferri's team
writes. Suggesting that antiviral treatment may relieve erectile dysfunction,
the researchers recommend that this approach be studied in clinical trials.
They also advise physicians to consider hepatitis C infection when diagnosing
SOURCE: Journal of the American Medical Association 2002;288:698-699.