Cases That Test Your Skills

Suicidal and paranoid thoughts after starting hepatitis C virus treatment

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Ms. B, age 53, reports stopping her medication regimen after starting hepatitis C virus treatment because of new-onset suicidal ideation and paranoia. What is your treatment plan?



CASE Suicidal and paranoid

Ms. B, age 53, has a 30-year history of bipolar disorder, a 1-year history of hepatitis C virus (HCV), and previous inpatient psychiatric hospitalizations secondary to acute mania. She presents to our hospital describing her symptoms as the “worst depression ever” and reports suicidal ideation and paranoid thoughts of people watching and following her. Ms. B describes significant neurovegetative symptoms of depression, including poor sleep, poor appetite, low energy and concentration, and chronic feelings of hopelessness with thoughts of “ending it all.” Ms. B reports that her symptoms started 3 weeks ago, a few days after she started taking sofosbuvir and ribavirin for refractory HCV.

Ms. B’s medication regimen consisted of quetiapine, 400 mg at bedtime, fluoxetine, 40 mg/d, and lamotrigine, 150 mg/d, for bipolar disorder, when she started taking sofosbuvir and ribavirin. Ms. B admits she stopped taking her psychotropic and antiviral medications after she noticed progressively worsening depression with intrusive suicidal thoughts, including ruminative thoughts of overdosing on them.

At evaluation, Ms. B is casually dressed, pleasant, with fair hygiene and poor eye contact. Her speech is decreased in rate, volume, and tone; mood is “devastated and depressed”; affect is labile and tearful. Her thought process reveals occasional thought blocking and her thought content includes suicidal ideations and paranoid thoughts. Her cognition is intact; insight and judgment are poor. During evaluation, Ms. B reveals a history of alcohol and marijuana use, but reports that she has not used either for the past 15 years. She further states that she had agreed to a trial of medication first for her liver disease and had deferred any discussion of liver transplant at the time of her diagnosis with HCV.

Laboratory tests reveal a normal complete blood count, creatinine, and electrolytes. However, liver functions were elevated, including aspartate aminotransferase (AST) of 107 U/L (reference range, 8 to 48 U/L) and alanine aminotransferase of 117 U/L (reference range, 7 to 55 U/L). Although increased, the levels of AST and ALT were slightly less than her levels pre-sofosbuvir–ribavirin trial, indicating some response to the medication.

The authors’ observations

Approximately 170 million people worldwide suffer from chronic HCV infection, affecting 2.7 to 5.2 million people in the United States, with 350,000 deaths attributed to liver disease caused by HCV.1

The standard treatment of HCV genotype 1, which represents 70% of all cases of chronic HCV in the United States, is 12 to 32 weeks of an oral protease inhibitor combined with 24 to 48 weeks of peg-interferon (IFN)–alpha-2a plus ribavirin, with the duration of therapy guided by the on-treatment response and the stage of hepatic fibrosis.1

In 2013, the FDA approved sofosbuvir, a direct-acting antiviral drug for chronic HCV. It is a nucleotide analogue HCV NS5B polymerase inhibitor with similar in vitro activity against all HCV genotypes.1 This medication is efficient when used with an antiviral regimen in adults with HCV with liver disease, cirrhosis, HIV coinfection, and hepatocellular carcinoma awaiting liver transplant.2

Combination therapy of peg-IFN-α therapy and ribavirin results in a good sustained viral response, which is defined as an undetectable HCV-RNA level (<50 IU/mL) 24 weeks after treatment withdrawal.3 Unfortunately, significant neuropsychiatric adverse events often limit its use (Table 1). The most common psychiatric adverse effect is depression, with a prevalence of 30% to 70%, with psychosis, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.3


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