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Researcher studies, treats military with 'silent disease'

ors told them about Sjogren's study so they could learn more about joining it. If they decided to participate, Sjogren's team performed a liver biopsy, if one hadn't already been done, to see how advanced the disease was. At the end of four years, a second biopsy was taken.

"It's the only way to establish the progression of the disease," Sjogren said.

Her patients, ranging in age from 18 to the upper 50s, mostly come from the Northeast because of its proximity to Walter Reed. Thirty percent of the study volunteers had minimal liver disease, Sjogren said. Of the 70 percent with more advanced liver disease, 15 to 20 percent had cirrhosis, a condition in which scar tissue replaces healthy tissue, blocking the flow of blood through the organ and preventing it from working as it should. Cirrhosis is the twelfth leading cause of death by disease, killing about 26,000 people each year, according to The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse Web site.

Sjogren's clinic provided treatment to "just about everybody unless they have very minimal disease or liver damage," she said. "We may not offer them treatment because chances are that person's disease may not progress."

The standard treatment--24 to 48 weeks of a once-a-week injection with interferon and several pills of ribavirin each day--are what Sjogren speculated would cause a decrease in quality of the volunteers' lives. "The medications are tough to take," she said.

On initial questionnaires, study volunteers reported that they were depressed; anxious about their health, families, and careers; and having trouble sleeping. Once treatment began, however, they reported that their quality of life had improved.

"We've been very surprised. When we asked the patients why (they felt better), they said, 'I'm doing something for my infection,'" Sjogren said.

Another factor that may have calmed study volunteers is the patient education Sjogren's staff offers
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Source:US Department of Defense Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs


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