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Hepatitis C and Kidney Transplantation

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that can cause liver disease, inflammation (swelling and scarring) of the liver and liver cancer. There are several types of hepatitis. The most common are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C. 

What causes hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C infection is caused by a virus. It is passed from person to person through contact with infected blood.

Can I get a kidney transplant if I have hepatitis C?

Yes. You can have a kidney transplant if you have hepatitis C. First, your healthcare provider will have to determine if your liver has been injured from your hepatitis C infection. Damage to your liver from hepatitis C can prevent you from getting a kidney transplant. If your liver is healthy enough, you can get a kidney transplant. In some patients where damage to their liver from hepatitis C is serious enough, they may need to get both a liver and kidney transplant. 

Your healthcare provider may recommend that you get a kidney that comes from a person who already has hepatitis C. This will allow you to get a transplant sooner and shorten your time on the transplant wait list. If this plan is best for you, treatment of the hepatitis C infection with antiviral drugs will follow the kidney transplant surgery.

In other cases, your healthcare provider may treat your hepatitis C infection with antiviral drugs before you get a kidney transplant. Your healthcare provider will speak with you to help find the right treatment and transplant option for you.  

What affects my chances of getting a kidney transplant if I have hepatitis C?

Each person is different. However, there are things that your healthcare provider will look for before suggesting a kidney transplant. These are:

  • The amount of hepatitis C virus in your body (viral load)
  •  The health of your liver
    • cirrhosis of the liver (scarring of the liver) can affect your chances of getting a kidney transplant)
  • Liver enzyme levels to help find how healthy your liver is after having hepatitis C
  • Stage of your liver disease (if any)

In some cases, sometimes both a liver and kidney transplant is recommended.

What do I need to know after I receive a kidney transplant? 

There are many factors that can affect the success of your transplant. Some of them include:

  • New-onset diabetes: New-onset diabetes can occur as a side effect of the medications that you need to prevent rejection of your new organ.
  • Antiviral drugs: Hepatitis C may still be active in your body after a transplant. If this is the case, your clinician will watch you closely. It is usually not recommended to be treated with antiviral drugs (like interferon) at this time because it can cause rejection of your new kidney. Speak with your healthcare provider about interferon-free antiviral drug treatment to see if this is an option for you.
  • Immunosuppressant drugs: You will be on medicines every day after your transplant to help keep your transplant healthy. These medicines are called immunosuppressant drugs or anti-rejection drugs. Your healthcare practitioner will watch you closely to make sure the hepatitis C virus is not at a high level in your body during this time. If it is, your healthcare provider will have to decide on the right treatment plan for you. 

It is important to speak with your healthcare provider about your treatment options if you have kidney failure and have hepatitis C. 

Also in the A to Z Guide:

Hepatitis C

Infectious Diseases: A Guide for Hemodialysis Patients and Their Families

Last Reviewed: 06/23/2016
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