The human body is made of many parts, but the most important of them is the liver. Your body has many vital functions. Your immune system can prevent and fend off infections by helping you store sugars and vitamins, and by helping you filter toxins that you breathe.

Hepatitis C threatens your liver health. Many people with acute hepatitis C don’t have symptoms. Chronic hepatitis C symptoms are usually vague and include fatigue and depression.

The majority of cases of the disease can be cured with just a few weeks of treatment, which causes little to no side effects.

Depending on the extent of damage caused by the disease, a transplant may still be necessary.

Acute

Acute hepatitis C is when you contract the virus within the first 6 months. Your immune system may be able to fight off the disease. Most cases of acute hepatitis C are not treated.

Chronic

“If your immune system can’t fight off the disease within 6 months, it can become chronic. The delivery of vitamins to your shirlid is compromised by the damage that the HCV can do to bile ducts.”

Over years, HCV damage leaves scar tissue that blocks blood flow through your liver. Cirrhosis occurs when scarring causes the liver to function poorly. Other complications of untreated HCV include liver cancer and liver failure.

Treatment for chronic hepatitis C involves 8 to 12 weeks of oral medication. This treatment can cure about 9 in 10 cases of HCV. Treatment helps to prevent cirrhosis and may even reverse some liver scarring.

If HCV remains untreated and causes severe scarring and cirrhosis, your liver will eventually begin to fail and you may require a liver transplant. This amount of liver damage takes around 20 years to develop.

What your doctor needs to know

“Only people who don’t have any other treatment options are recommended for a transplant.”

If you are a candidate for a transplant, your doctor will determine if you are a good candidate. Your doctor and the transplant center team want you to have the best chance of survival.

“Doctors consider a person’s medical tests, health history, and support system when choosing a recipient of the liver. They want to be sure that you are healthy enough to survive the surgery and that your care is in place. They want to know the severity of your disease.”

You may be tested, including:

  • A physical exam.
  • Blood tests.
  • urine tests
  • Your organs are being tested.
  • The tests assess the function of your organs.

How a transplant works

If you have a chronic disease, you may be able to receive treatment before or after your transplant. Your doctor will decide when to start treatment for the disease.

Liver transplant surgery can last 12 hours or more. You’ll be under general anesthesia during this time.

A living donor can give a new life to a recently deceased person. Most organ donations come from dead people.

Living donor transplants

“Doctors can transplant part of a donor’s liver. Both you and your donor will eventually have functioning organs.”

Doctors will first screen the donor to be sure they’re healthy enough to undergo the procedure. If the donor is approved, surgery is usually scheduled within 4 to 6 weeks, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Kidney and Disease (NIDDK).

The surgeries for living donors and recipients are done at the same time. The NIDDK says most people can go home within a week of surgery. You can get back to your normal activities within a month.

Deceased donor transplants

“A healthy, whole, deceased donor’s liver is usually given to a recipient. Sometimes the larger part of the body’s organ is split into two parts, with the smaller part going to a child or adult.”

“If you don’t have a living donor, you will be placed on a national waiting list. You can be on the waiting list for up to 5 years.”

Depending on the severity of your liver failure and other factors, you can wait as long as you want. Ask your care team how long you might have to wait for a transplant and how to keep your organ functioning while you wait.

You can usually return to your normal activities within 4 to 6 weeks after your surgery, according to the NIDDK.

More questions to ask

You will have a lot of questions to ask your doctor. Some questions you may want to ask.

  • Should I be treated for the disease after my transplant?
  • What lifelong medications will I need to help my body accept the new organ?
  • What are the side effects of the operation?
  • What is the best way to stop reinfection?
  • What is a realistic recovery time?
  • What will happen at the transplant center?

Quality of life should be maintained after your transplant.

  • “If you weren’t treated before your surgery, you should get treated for the disease.”
  • prevent HCV reinfection by:
    • Sharing needles or other substance use materials is not allowed.
    • If you get a tattoo, make sure the artists use sterile materials.
    • Sharing personal items is not allowed.
    • If you are at greater risk of getting the disease, you should practice protected sex.
  • If you are at risk of re-infection, you should get tested for the disease regularly.
  • Follow antirejection procedures to make sure your body accepts the new organ.
  • Know the signs of organ rejection.
  • Adopt healthy lifestyle habits.
  • Avoid drinking and smoking.

Your medical team will recommend a strategy for you. Make sure to keep appointments with your transplant team and primary doctor so that they can keep an eye on your new organ.

A transplant can prolong your life. You will need to get treated for the disease separately to improve your long-term outlook.

Most liver transplants in the United States are due to cirrhosis caused by hepatitis C. In the United States, an estimated 2.4 million people are currently living with HCV, according to the Department of Health & Human Services (HHS). About 51 percent of people with HCV don’t know they have the virus.

Between 75 to 85 percent of people with acute HCV go on to have chronic HCV. Between 5 to 25 percent of people with chronic HCV will experience cirrhosis within 10 to 20 years.

More than 90 percent of people who receive treatment for HCV are cured of the disease.

A successful transplant will allow you to live longer. Quality of life depends on many factors, including your age and health. Predicting the case is difficult because it is different.

Liver recipients can live for many years after their transplant. Generally, about 72 percent of people who receive livers from deceased donors live at least 5 more years.

Plus, research from 2018 suggests that survival rates have improved significantly in the past 3 decades. This is largely due to improvements in procedures that keep your body from rejecting the transplanted organ. Antiviral treatments also help prevent HCV recurrence. The study authors concluded that most deaths in the years after surgery are linked to metabolic syndrome.

Your healthcare team can help you navigate life after your transplant so that you have an improved quality of life.