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Gut. 2004 May;53(5):744-9.

Natural history of compensated viral cirrhosis: a prospective study on the incidence and hierarchy of major complications.

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  • 1Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, Clinica Medica 5, University of Padova, Padova, Italy.



The natural history of initially compensated cirrhosis due to hepatitis B (HBV) or hepatitis C (HCV) virus is only partially defined. We have investigated morbidity and mortality rates and the hierarchy of complications in compensated viral cirrhosis over a long follow up period.


A cohort of Italian patients with initially compensated cirrhosis of viral aetiology were followed up at six monthly intervals with laboratory tests to identify major complications (ascites, gastrointestinal bleeding, portal-systemic encephalopathy, hepatocellular carcinoma) and to assess the progression of Child's stage and mortality rate due to liver related causes.


Between 1986 and 1996, 312 patients (43 HBV positive, 254 HCV positive, and 15 HBV and HCV coinfected) were included. During a median follow up of 93 (range 14-194) months, 102 (32.6%) patients developed at least one complication (HCV positive 31.1%; HBV positive 34.8%; HBV and HCV coinfected 53.3%). Overall, the most frequent complication was hepatocellular carcinoma which occurred in 65 (20.8%) cases, followed by ascites (61 cases, 19.5%), gastrointestinal bleeding (14 cases, 4.5%), and portal-systemic encephalopathy (six cases, 1.9%). Progression of Child's stage was observed in 62 patients (19.8%). Death from liver disease occurred in 58 (18.6%) cases and in 70.7% this was due to hepatocellular carcinoma. Hepatocellular carcinoma was the first complication to develop in 59 cases and represented the most frequent first complication in both HCV and HBV/ HCV related cirrhosis.


These results indicate significant morbidity and mortality during the first decade after diagnosis of compensated cirrhosis due to HBV and/or HCV, and identify hepatocellular carcinoma as the most frequent and life threatening complication, particularly in HCV positive cases.

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