Hepatitis C Treatment: What a Liver Transplant Means for You
Let’s Hear a Cheer for the Liver!
What is your largest internal organ? Your liver. The heart, colon, and brain seem to get more press. But the liver is truly the unsung hero in the human body. Your liver’s hundreds of vital functions include filtering toxins you breathe and eat, storing sugars and vitamins your body needs for energy, and helping your immune system prevent and fend off infections. You can’t survive without an efficient liver. But hepatitis C threatens your liver health.
Hepatitis C Is a Serious Threat
The liver produces a fluid called bile that is essential for digestion. Hepatitis C virus (HCV) can damage bile ducts, compromising delivery of nutrients to your intestines. Over years, HCV’s chronic damage leaves scar tissue that blocks blood flow through your liver.
Medications aim to slow scarring of liver tissue, lower viral inflammation, and prevent cirrhosis, which occurs when the liver becomes scarred and functions poorly. If medications don’t work, you may need to talk to your doctor about a liver transplant.
Considering a Transplant: What Your Doctor Needs to Know
Your hepatologist, infectious disease specialist, or gastroenterologist will determine if you are a candidate for a liver transplant. To choose liver recipients, doctors consider a patient’s current medical tests, health history, and support system. They want to be confident your immune system, heart, and lungs are strong, and that your postoperative care is in place. Your doctor and the transplant center team want your body to have the best chance of accepting the new organ.
Considering a Transplant: What You Need to Know
A liver can come from a recently deceased person or a living donor. In fact, most organ donations are from deceased people. In the case of a cadaver donor, the patient receives a whole, healthy liver.
If liver tissue comes from a living donor, doctors remove and transplant just part of the donor’s liver. Because liver cells regenerate, both you and your donor will eventually have whole, functioning livers. If your donor is living, your operations would occur simultaneously.
Ask how long you might have to wait for a transplant and how to keep your liver functioning as effectively as possible until your transplant.
More Questions to Ask
You’ll have plenty of questions to ask your doctor about your transplant surgery. Some questions you should ask are:
- What lifelong medications will I need to help my body accept the new liver?
- What are the side effects of the operation?
- What is the best way to prevent infection?
- What is a realistic recovery time?
- What can I expect to happen at the transplant center?
Another important question to ask is: How does my hepatitis C affect my survival chances?
What Is a Successful Transplant?
A successful organ transplant allows you to live longer than your diseased liver would have allowed. For how long and with what quality of life? These unknowns depend on many factors, including your age and overall health. Because each case is different, predictions are difficult.
Your doctors’ goals will be to increase transplant quality and decrease how many you receive. Your cooperation by not drinking alcohol, by taking extra care not to invite infection, and by taking prescribed medicine is essential.
Hepatitis C, Cirrhosis, and Liver Transplants by the Numbers
Most liver transplants in the United States are due to cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C. In the U.S. 3.9 million people are infected with the hepatitis C virus, and nearly 70 percent of them experience chronic symptoms. Seven percent of chronic hepatitis C patients, or about 189,000 out of the 3.9 million, experience cirrhosis.
The numbers also show that most often, the hepatitis C virus reinfects patients after their operation.
How Much Time a New Liver Might Give You
Some have reported that liver recipients can live normally for over 30 years after their transplant. Generally, about 72 percent of patients who receive livers from deceased donors live at least five more years. In the case of a living donor transplant, which often means a shorter wait, 78 percent of recipients live at least five more years, according to the Mayo Clinic.
One study showed that in recent decades, as medical science has introduced new drugs, survival rates have increased. The study found that as many as 48 percent lived 18 years with a new liver. Recurrence of hepatitis C did compromise life expectancy, but only after the five-year mark.
Taking Care of Your New Liver
In order to maintain quality of life, you should avoid infection, follow anti-rejection procedures, and change your lifestyle. Your medical team will recommend how best to do this. Make sure to keep follow-up appointments with your transplant team and primary doctor so that they can monitor your new liver’s efficiency.
Although a liver transplant is not a cure for hepatitis C, it can prolong your life. Statistics and science are on your side, especially if you do your part!
- Ebell, M. H. (2003, November 1). Probability of cirrhosis in patients with hepatitis C. Point-of-Care Guides. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.aafp.org/afp/2003/1101/p1831.html
- Jain, A., Reyes, J., Dodson, S. F., Demetris, A. J., Ruppert, K., Abu-Elmagd, K., et al. (n.d.). Annals of Surgery: Long-term survival after liver transplantation in 4,000 consecutive patients at a single center. NCBI. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1421181/
- Life after transplant. (n.d.). Center for Liver Disease and Transplantation. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://livermd.org/life.html
- Liver transplant. (2012, May 1). MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/003006.htm
- Liver transplant results. (n.d.). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/liver-transplant/liver-transplant-results.html
- Liver transplantation. (2012, April 23). National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC). Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/livertransplant/
- Treatment Basics. (n.d.). American Liver Foundation. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/treatment/the-basics-about-hepatitis-c-treatment/
- Who treats hepatitis C?. (n.d.). American Liver Foundation. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://hepc.liverfoundation.org/taking-action/who-treats-hep-c/