Psychiatric Care of the Patient With Hepatitis C: A Review of the Literature



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Context: Approximately 1.8% of the US population is chronically infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The prevalence rates of psychiatric illness in patients with HCV infection are higher than those rates in the general US population, and the prevalence of HCV infection in patients with severe mental illness may be as high as 9 times that of the general US population. Primary care physicians and psychiatrists are on the forefront of identifying patients with psychiatric illness who are at risk for HCV infection and can screen for HCV infection. This review summarizes the psychiatric implications of HCV infection and strategies for the management of interferon alfa–induced neuropsychiatric adverse effects.

Evidence Acquisition: English-language studies were identified by computerized searches using the term hepatitis C psychiatric between 1972 and 2009, and further references were obtained from bibliographies of the reviewed articles. Relevant references were reviewed by the authors and included the basis of significance and applicability to practicing psychiatrists and internists.

Results: Since primary care physicians and psychiatrists are sometimes the only medical link for patients with psychiatric illness, they are expected to provide posttest counseling for their patients with HCV and psychiatric illness. The task of conducting a psychiatric and psychosocial pretreatment risk-benefit assessment to determine whether or not to treat HCV infection is increasingly delegated to primary care providers as well as psychiatrists. The use of interferon alfa–based therapies to eradicate HCV has been associated with frequent neuropsychiatric adverse effects (eg, affective, anxiety, cognitive, and psychotic symptoms) that compromise the management of HCV patients with and without a preexisting history of psychiatric illness. Primary care physicians and psychiatrists are frequently asked to assist in the management of these neuropsychiatric adverse effects and evaluate the risks and benefits of using prophylactic psychotropics.

Conclusions: Despite the clinical challenge that interferon alfa treatment for patients with comorbid HCV and psychiatric illness presents, recent research indicates that interferon alfa can be safely administered to HCV-infected patients with psychiatric disorders provided there is a comprehensive pretreatment assessment, a risk-benefit analysis, and intensive ongoing medical and psychiatric follow-up.

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2010;12(6):e1–e13

Submitted: August 29, 2009; accepted May 7, 2010.

Published online: December 16, 2010 (doi:10.4088/PCC.09r00877whi).

Corresponding author: Muhamad Aly Rifai, MD, Lehigh Valley Health Network, 2545 Schoenersville Rd, 5th Floor, Bethlehem, PA 18017 (

Prim Care Companion J Clin Psychiatry 2010;12(6):e1-e13