PLoS One. 2021 Feb 19;16(2):e0244781. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0244781. eCollection 2021.
PURPOSE: This study was conducted to evaluate the role of liver sonography in patients with coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and elevated liver enzymes.
MATERIALS AND METHODS: In this retrospective study, patients tested positive for SARS-CoV-2 in our emergency ward between January 01 and April 24, 2020 and elevated liver enzymes were included (Cohort 1). Additionally, the local radiology information system was screened for sonographies in COVID-19 patients at the intensive care unit in the same period (Cohort 2). Liver sonographies and histologic specimen were reviewed and suspicious findings recorded. Medical records were reviewed for clinical data. Ultrasound findings and clinical data were correlated with severity of liver enzyme elevation.
RESULTS: Cohort 1: 126 patients were evaluated, of which 47 (37.3%) had elevated liver enzymes. Severity of liver enzyme elevation was associated with death (p<0.001). 8 patients (6.3%) had suspicious ultrasound findings, including signs of acute hepatitis (n = 5, e.g. thickening of gall bladder wall, hepatomegaly, decreased echogenicity of liver parenchyma) and vascular complications (n = 4). Cohort 2: 39 patients were evaluated, of which 14 are also included in Cohort 1. 19 patients (48.7%) had suspicious ultrasound findings, of which 13 patients had signs of acute hepatitis and 6 had vascular complications. Pathology was performed in 6 patients. Predominant findings were severe cholestasis and macrophage activation.
CONCLUSION: For most hospitalized COVID-19 patients, elevated liver enzymes cause little concern as they are only mild to moderate. However, in severely ill patients bedside sonography is a powerful tool to reveal different patterns of vascular, cholestatic or inflammatory complications in the liver, which are associated with high mortality. In addition, macrophage activation as histopathologic correlate for a hyperinflammatory syndrome seems to be a frequent complication in COVID-19.