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There is strong evidence of a link between chronic kidney disease (CKD) and hepatitis C. What does this mean for the health of patients who suffer from both conditions?

Based on published research, hepatitis C is nine times more common in people with CKD who are on hemodialysis than in the general population. Chronic hepatitis C, in turn, can cause patients to develop liver damage and cirrhosis.

Blood transfusions (prior to 1992), hemodialysis, and organ transplants are potential sources of exposure because the hepatitis C virus is spread by blood contact. Therefore, patients with advanced CKD are particularly vulnerable because they often undergo these procedures.

CKD patients who were born between 1945 and 1965 comprise an especially high-risk group. Among the general population, baby boomers are six times more likely to have chronic hepatitis C than other adults. The reasons for this are not fully known. Many may have become infected before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply went into effect.

Double jeopardy: CKD and hepatitis C
Patients who have both CKD and chronic hepatitis C face the danger that each condition will exacerbate the other. Hepatitis C can accelerate the progression of CKD, and it has been difficult historically to cure chronic hepatitis C infection in patients with advanced CKD. Physicians must weigh a number of factors when considering treatment options, including whether or not the patient is receiving hemodialysis and the extent of any existing liver damage.

“There is no one-size-fits-all treatment for CKD under any circumstances,” said Howard Monsour, MD, chief of hepatology at Houston Methodist Hospital. “Introducing hepatitis C to the equation adds a new level of complexity. Obviously, the earlier we’re able to detect hepatitis C in CKD patients, the better.”

See a doctor and get tested
The good news for CKD patients with hepatitis C is that there are now options to effectively treat chronic hepatitis C without further compromising kidney function, even if you have both conditions. However, because hepatitis C does not always produce symptoms, the first step is to be tested. CKD patients who test positive for the hepatitis C virus should consult their doctors to determine a treatment plan that fits their unique circumstances.