A comprehensive overview on the course of hepatitis C is not available despite the many studies published. The aim was to review the course and prognostic variables of untreated hepatitis C.
English-language articles published between January 1989 and December 1997 were identified and data extracted to answer predefined relevant questions.
Median chronicization rate, mostly assessed in transfusion-associated hepatitis, was 67%. In retrospective studies, the interval between date of infection and diagnosis of cirrhosis or hepatocellular carcinoma was 20-40 years. Median progression rate from chronic hepatitis to cirrhosis was 27.9% after 8-12 years. Studies obtaining this figure included selected groups of patients and could reflect the worst prognostic segment of the disease. The course of hepatitis C virus infection may be more favourable: cirrhosis rarely or never occurred in young females infected by con-taminated anti-D-immunglobulins; hepatitis was histologically mild in most hepatitis C virus-RNA positive subjects with normal or near normal transminases, predicting non-progressive or very slowly progressive disease; in a population survey from Italy, among 170 infected subjects only 4% had raised transaminases, and none overt liver disease. Increasing age, histological severity, alcohol, possibly male sex and liver iron content were predictors of cirrhosis or increased fibrosis.
Chronicization rate of hepatitis C virus infection is very high. Hepatitis C virus infection can result in a wide prognostic spectrum of liver disease, ranging from cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma to subclinical, nonprogressive disease. Cofactors such as alcohol excess are important in determining the outcome of hepatitis C virus-related chronic liver disease.