Will a Person with Hepatitis C Need a Liver Transplant?
What does the liver do?
The liver is an organ in the abdomen. Its primary function is to create bile to break down foods and fats that are taken in during eating and drinking. This part of the breaking down process aids in digestion as the bile helps to separate the vitamins/nutrients from the healthy necessary fats, as well as extricating the unnecessary or unusable portions of what a person consumes. When these are properly divided, the body is able to send each to be appropriately used; some go to different body parts to be turned into energy, some are turned into nutrients so the body can function properly, and the waste is sent toward the bladder or bowels for removal from the body.
When every part of the digestive system works properly, the body is able to take food and drink and turn it into the fuel needed to function. When one of the crucial aspects of digestion (the liver) is damaged, the body may become stressed by trying to compensate, or it may be unable to function at full capacity. This can leave a person feeling exhausted due to lack of nutrients for energy, feeling pain due to the body’s struggle to process, or it can lead to significant problems with proper nutrition and toileting.
How does hepatitis C affect the liver?
The liver can become inflamed due to hepatitis C. Often, prolonged exposure to hepatitis C can lead to liver damage. This is because the liver is inflamed for a lengthy period of time and this can lead to temporary or permanent liver damage due to the scarring and hardening of liver cells or to cirrhosis, where the scar tissue can replace healthy liver tissue. During this time, the liver may be unable to function properly in the body and may require additional medications and dietary requirements to heal before, during, and after treatment for hepatitis C.
How will I know if I need a liver transplant?
Liver damage is sometimes reversible, depending on the length of time the liver has been damaged and the extent of the damage. This is why people who may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus are recommended to be tested, so anyone with the virus can begin treatment as soon after infection as possible, which minimizes damage to the liver.
The majority of people who are ever infected with hepatitis C never need a liver transplant. This is because medications, diet, and other medical interventions can often help the liver to heal from damage due to hep C.
However, some people live with hepatitis C for years or decades without knowing it. Sometimes, this means the liver is too badly scarred with cirrhosis to ever fully function again, and they are in end-stage liver failure. This is when a doctor will recommend a liver transplant. The most frequent cause of liver transplants in the United States is having damage to their own liver due to hepatitis C.
When a liver transplant is necessary, doctors will run numerous tests on the body to check for other medical problems and to assess whether the person is healthy enough to receive a new liver. Morbid obesity, other significant illnesses, or being a smoker can all lead to concerns for the doctors as to whether that person’s body can handle a liver transplant.
During this time, it is important to follow medical directions as closely as possible, both to maintain as much liver health as possible and to prepare the body for a possible future transplant. If you have end stage liver disease or cirrhosis, your doctor will help you to understand why you are or are not a candidate for a liver transplant, as well as how to best care for your liver.
I have hepatitis C. What can I do to keep my liver as healthy as possible?
For those with hepatitis C who are concerned about keeping their livers as healthy as possible, most doctors recommend maintaining a diet that is as easy to digest as possible.
This means avoiding alcohol and junk food and consuming lots of produce and whole grains. Alcohol is generally to be avoided by anyone with hepatitis C, because it can speed the replication of the virus’ cells and slow the efficacy of hep C treatment medications. Junk food is called that because it typically is free of nutrients and full of fats, sugars, and preservatives, which are especially difficult for a damaged liver to break down.
However, produce and whole grains provide the body with rich nutrients and with antioxidants, which can help the liver to process nutrients easily and provide the body with as much nutrition as possible during a time when it may not be able to extricate all of the available benefits from food during the digestion process.
If you are concerned about your ability to afford healthy foods, or if you struggle to find healthy foods that you like, you may wish to speak with your doctor or with a dietician. They can help you to learn more about how to best plan your meals for your body’s needs.1-4
- Picco, MD, Michael. "Hepatitis C: What Happens In End-Stage Liver Disease? - Mayo Clinic". Mayoclinic.org. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
- Pietrangelo, Ann. "The Progression Of Hepatitis C: What Are The Stages?". Healthline. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
- "Stages Of Hepatitis C | Hepatitis C Trust". Hepctrust.org.uk. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.
- "Transplantation". HEP. N.p., 2016. Web. 29 Apr. 2016.