Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. It is caused by at least five different types of viruses. One of the types of viruses is the C virus. Hepatitis C has also been called non-A, non-B hepatitis. The incidence of hepatitis C is 1 case per 10,000 individuals. Hepatitis C is transmitted though exposure to infected blood or blood products. The hepatitis C virus causes most cases of hepatitis that occur after a blood transfusion. Hepatitis C can also be transmitted through intravenous drug use and other exposures to contaminated blood or blood-containing products. In about 40% of cases, the exposure is not identified.
In general, individuals infected with hepatitis C are often identified because they are found to have elevated liver enzymes on a routine blood test. Others are identified because a hepatitis C antibody is found to be positive at the time of a blood donation. At least 50% of the cases of hepatitis C may become chronic. In these individuals, a liver biopsy may need to be done to determine the severity of liver damage.
Symptoms of Your Diagnosis
One of main symptoms of hepatitis C is jaundice, a yellow color to the skin or whites of the eyes. The jaundice is caused by the excess bilirubin in the blood. The excess bilirubin can also lead to other symptoms such as pale or clay-colored stools, dark urine and generalized itching. Flu-like symptoms of fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, and low-grade fever may occur several days before the jaundice appears.
If chronic hepatitis C develops, the symptoms can vary. Some individuals may remain well. Others will have severe and persistent liver inflammation. This may eventually lead to scarring of the liver, called cirrhosis, and liver failure. The scarring does not allow the liver to do its job of removing toxic substances from the blood.
There is no specific treatment for acute hepatitis C. Most individuals can be cared for at home. Rest and proper diet are recommended when the symptoms are most severe. Individuals with acute hepatitis should avoid alcohol and any substances that are toxic to the liver.
While individuals with chronic hepatitis C can be treated with medications, not all patients will have a long lasting response. The goal of treatment is to improve or normalize the liver function tests and reduce the inflammation in the liver. This will, in turn, slow or interrupt the development of the complications of cirrhosis. Treatment, which must continue for many months, frequently causes side effects, including flu-like symptoms, depression, headache and decreased appetite. In addition, it can cause problems with the bone marrow.
- Bed rest may be necessary until the jaundice disappears and the appetite returns.
- A well-balanced diet with plenty of fluids is essential.
- Make sure you properly wash your hands if you have hepatitis or are caring for someone with the disease. This is particularly important after contact with blood or other body fluids.
- If you have multiple sexual partners, a latex condom should be used. It may prevent transmission of the virus.
- If exposed to blood and body fluids on the job, use proper protective equipment such as gloves and eye protection to lessen the chance of accidental exposure.
- Avoid any substances that may be harmful to the liver. The avoidance of alcohol is key.
- Fatty foods may not be well tolerated in individuals with hepatitis C.
- If you have had hepatitis C, you should not donate blood. All blood is screened for the hepatitis C virus.
- If you are an intravenous drug addict, do not share needles and other equipment because they can be contaminated.
1. What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) . The disease often causes very few symptoms, so many infected people do not know they have it. There are several forms of Hepatitis C, which all respond differently to different types of treatment. The most common form in the United States is type 1.
2. What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C? (and are symptoms different in men and women?)
Unfortunately, most people with Hepatitis C show no symptoms, so they don’t know they have it. This is the case for both men and women. It often isn’t detected until problems with your liver show up in tests.
However, some people may experience the following early signs of Hepatitis C:
- Stomach pains
- Dark urine
- Flu-like symptoms
- Nausea and vomiting
- Joint pain
3. What causes Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a virus that you can catch by coming into contact with infectious fluids and secretions from someone who has the virus already.
4. Can Hepatitis C be transmitted between people?
Yes. Hepatitis C can be transmitted to others. The highest risk activities for spreading Hepatitis C include:
- Sharing anything involved with injecting street drugs, from syringes and needles, to tourniquets and pipes
- Sharing non-sterile tattoo or piercing tools and ink
- Getting a blood transfusion in countries that don’t screen blood for the virus
5. Who should be screened for Hepatitis C?
The United States Preventive Screening Task Force (USPSTF) recommends screening for HCV infection in persons at high risk for infection due to life style factors or exposures. The USPSTF also recommends offering 1-time screening for HCV infection to adults born between 1945 and 1965.
A simple blood test is all that is required to find out if you have the virus. If you do have it, your doctor will order more tests to determine the “viral load” your blood contains and the extent to which your liver may be damaged.
6. Is there treatment for the Hepatitis C? Can it be cured?
Hepatitis C is treated with antiviral medications. Based on your specific case, your doctor will recommend a course of treatment that may include a variety of medications. In severe cases, you may be eligible for a liver transplant.
7. If I have no symptoms, why should I seek treatment for HCV?
Long-term exposure to HCV can lead to cirrhosis of the liver from which liver cancer can develop.
8. Is there a vaccine for Hepatitis C?
There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C yet, but there are vaccines for Hepatitis A and B. By getting vaccinated for these, you can help mitigate any damage to your liver caused by Hepatitis C.
When to Call Your Doctor
- If you have been exposed to someone who has hepatitis C or if you have symptoms of the disease.
- If hepatitis C symptoms do not resolve within 16 weeks.
For More Information
Hepatitis Foundation International
30 Sunrise Terrace
Cedar Grove, NJ 07009
The Hepatitis C Foundation
1502 Russett Drive
Warminster, PA 18974
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