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J Hepatol. 2001 Aug;35(2):265-71.

Long-term follow-up of chronic hepatitis C in patients diagnosed at a tertiary-care center.

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  • 1Department of Medicine, Institut d'Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS), Hospital Clinic, Universitat de Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain.



The natural history of chronic hepatitis C (HCV) is not completely understood. This study was aimed to evaluate the long-term outcome of the disease over a prolonged period of time and to identify factors associated with progression.


One hundred and sixteen patients with non-cirrhotic chronic non-A, non-B hepatitis consecutively diagnosed at a tertiary hospital between 1971 and 1977 were followed until December 1998 or until death. Patients with significant alcohol intake were excluded from the study. Variables obtained at the time of diagnosis, including epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and histological data were recorded to determine risk factors associated with the development of liver cirrhosis and hepatic decompensation.


Based on complete follow-up data, the development of liver cirrhosis and hepatic decompensation was evaluated in 94 and 114 of the 116 patients, respectively. Thirty-seven (39.3%) of 94 patients developed liver cirrhosis; an aspartate aminotransferase (AST) value higher than 70 IU/L was associated with development of cirrhosis (odds ratio (OR) 4.22, 95% CI 1.3-13.8). Hepatic decompensation occurred in 12 (10.5%) of 114 patients, its cumulative probability being 2.8% at 10 years, 5.2% at 15 years and 19.8% at 20 years. The only factor independently associated to the development of hepatic decompensation was the presence of fibrosis (stage 2 or 3) in the initial liver biopsy (OR 4.1, IC 95% 1.22-13.9). Liver-related death occurred only in seven (6%) of 114 patients. In comparison with the 116 patients diagnosed in the 1970's, patients with chronic hepatitis C diagnosed in 1999 were younger, more often asymptomatic, had lower AST and alanine aminotransferase (ALT) values and had significantly lower grade and stage histological scores.


In summary, chronic hepatitis C had a high rate of progression to liver cirrhosis over a prolonged follow-up. However, this might be related to the fact that two decades ago the diagnosis was made at a significantly more advanced stage of the disease. Patients at high risk of progression can be identified by biochemical and histological variables at the time of diagnosis.

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