COVID-19 infection is associated with increased liver stiffness, a sign of possible long-term liver injury, according to the results of a study presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America.
The study was based on COVID-19 patients and uninfected controls seen at Massachusetts General Hospital between 2019 and 2022. All participants underwent ultrasound shear-wave elastography, which allows clinicians to measure liver tissue. Liver stiffness is associated with both inflammation and fibrosis.
Participants were separated into three groups: 31 people with polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-confirmed COVID-19 infections at least 12 weeks before the ultrasound, 50 people who had the ultrasound before the pandemic, and 50 people who had the ultrasound during the pandemic but had negative COVID tests.
In the COVID-positive group, elastography exams were performed an average of 44 weeks after a positive PCR test result.
The 31 participants with COVID-19 had statically higher median liver stiffness readings than pandemic controls; however, the prepandemic control group also had higher levels of stiffness.
"We don’t yet know if elevated liver stiffness observed after COVID-19 infection will lead to adverse patient outcomes," said Firouzeh Heidari, MD, a study author, in a press release. "We are currently investigating whether the severity of acute COVID-related symptoms is predictive of long-term liver injury severity."