The most common forms of hepatitis are from a range of causes including viral diseases (hepatitis B and C), a non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, alcohol abuse, autoimmunity and metabolic liver disease. Treatment options include antiviral therapy, weight loss, alcohol abstinence, and immunosuppressive medications. These are successful for most patients, but a small percentage fail these therapies because they are too sick or advanced to respond to medications. In these scenarios, patients can develop severe life – threatening symptoms or even liver cancer.
At this stage, there is no cure other than replacing the diseased liver, otherwise known as a liver transplant. The most important thing to remember is that when treatment options have failed and life-threatening complications of liver disease occur, patients should be immediately referred to a liver transplant center for an evaluation and to see if they are well enough to undergo transplantation.
There are over 100 liver transplant centers in the U.S. and typically several in all major cities and smaller metropolitan areas. Once a patient is placed on the liver transplant waitlist, treatments are aimed at keeping patients alive until a transplant but not generally treating the underlying liver disease itself, as it is often too late at that stage.
Long term recovery
Since first performed in the 1960s, there are now thousands of liver transplants performed each year in the U.S. and around the world. Most are successful and lead to long term survival. 90 percent per 1 year and 70 percent per 5 years on average. This is significantly higher than the chances of being alive with liver failure. In addition, most transplant recipients are able to function normally and get back to leading productive lives. Patients will also generally need to take immunosuppressive medications to prevent organ rejection, but the doses of these drugs can be lowered over time in most people to limit their side effects.
Josh Levitsky, M.D., Hepatologist, Professor of Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, [email protected]