How common is it for people with chronic hepatitis C to need a liver transplant?

Answers from James M. Steckelberg, M.D.

Liver failure due to hepatitis C is the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. But because most infected people don't know about their condition until it's advanced, researchers can provide only rough estimates of the risk and rate of progression to liver failure in chronic hepatitis C.

Without treatment, most people who get hepatitis C remain infected for life. Infections that persist in this way are called chronic.

Chronic hepatitis C infection causes ongoing liver inflammation that leads to scarring (fibrosis). As fibrosis progresses, scars gradually replace healthy liver tissue.

In response to tissue loss, the liver goes into growth mode, increasing cell production and forming new blood vessels. Instead of repairing the damage, though, these changes cause new problems that are more likely to lead to liver failure than is fibrosis alone. This stage of liver damage is known as cirrhosis. Hepatitis C-related liver failure is usually a result of cirrhosis.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that out of 100 people infected with hepatitis C, approximately 60 to 70 will develop chronic liver disease — specifically, hepatitis and fibrosis — and 5 to 20 will develop cirrhosis. An estimated 1 to 5 out of 100 people with chronic hepatitis C will die of liver failure or liver cancer resulting from the infection.

Dec. 12, 2014 See more Expert Answers