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Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis, Complications, Prevention

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation and infection of the liver. This condition develops after being infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic.

Unlike hepatitis A and B, there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, although efforts to create one continue. Hepatitis C is highly contagious, which explains the high number of people with the disease. Learn more about the different types of hepatitis.

Acute vs Chronic Hepatitis C

The symptoms of acute hepatitis C set in quickly and last a few weeks. However, chronic hepatitis C symptoms develop over a period of months and may not be apparent at first. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 71 million people have chronic hepatitis C.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that approximately 70 to 80 percent of people with hepatitis C don’t have symptoms. While this is true, some people report mild to severe symptoms. These symptoms include:

  • fever
  • joint pain
  • jaundice
  • dark urine
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain or discomfort

The symptoms may not show up right away. Some may take six to seven weeks to appear.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C in Men

Hepatitis C symptoms in men are the same as in women. However, men are less likely to fight off the virus than women. Hepatitis C in men may stay in their systems longer and may be more likely to cause symptoms in men.

How do you get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact with someone infected with HCV. It can be spread through:

  • organ transplants
  • child birth (from a mother with hepatitis C to her baby)
  • sexual contact if blood is exchanged
  • blood transfusions
  • sharing items such as razors or toothbrushes
  • sharing needles
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People who have a high risk of infection with HCV include those who have:

  • had a blood transfusion before 1992
  • been born to a mother with hepatitis C
  • had a sexual partner who’s infected with hepatitis C
  • received an organ transplant
  • received clotting factor concentrates or other blood products before 1987
  • received hemodialysis treatment for a long period
  • used needles that have been used before

Is Hepatitis C contagious?

Hepatitis C is contagious. However, because it’s only spread through blood-to-blood contact, it isn’t likely that you’d get hepatitis C through casual contact. There are many other infections that are a lot more contagious.

Test for Hepatitis C

A doctor may not have enough evidence to diagnose hepatitis C just from symptoms. It’s important to let your doctor know if you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C.

Your doctor may order a series of blood tests to check for signs of HCV infection. There are also blood tests that can also measure the amount of HCV in your blood if you’re infected. A genotyping test can be used to find out the hepatitis C genotype you have. This information will help determine which treatment will work best for you.

If your doctor thinks you have liver damage, they’ll order a liver function test to check your blood for signs of heightened enzymes from your liver. Another test to check for liver damage is a liver biopsy. Your doctor will take a small piece of tissue from your liver and test it for cell abnormalities.

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Knowing what happens during hepatitis C testing can help make the process easier.

Hepatitis C vaccine

Unfortunately, right now there’s no hepatitis C vaccine. However, there are many other ways to prevent getting hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Antibody

Certain foreign substances that enter your body trigger your immune system to make antibodies. Antibodies are specifically programmed to only target and fight the foreign substance that they were made to fight. If you’re infected with HCV, your body will make hepatitis C antibodies that only fight HCV.

Since your body would only make hepatitis C antibodies if you have hepatitis C, the hepatitis C antibody test can confirm HCV infection by testing whether you have hepatitis C antibodies.

Treatments for Hepatitis C

Not everyone infected with hepatitis C will need treatment. For some people, their immune systems may be able to fight the infection well enough to clear the infection from their bodies. If this is the case for you, your doctor will probably want to monitor your liver function with regular blood tests.

For people with immune systems that can’t clear the infection, there are several options for treating hepatitis C. Treatment is usually reserved for people with serious liver damage and scarring, and no other conditions that prevent treatment.

Past hepatitis C treatment regimens required weekly injections for 48 weeks. This treatment had the risk of significant and sometimes life-threatening side effects. Newly developed antiviral medications now have higher cure rates and fewer adverse side effects. They also require a shorter treatment period. Your doctor may decide whether antiviral treatment is likely to provide more benefit than harm.

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Hepatitis C medications

There are many medications used to treat hepatitis C. These include interferons and antivirals.

There are several HCV genotypes and not all hepatitis medications treat all HCV infections.

Once your doctor knows your hepatitis C genotype, they have a better idea of which medication will work the best for you.

Complications associated with Hepatitis C

Complications from hepatitis C include cirrhosis and liver cancer. Some people with hepatitis C may need a liver transplant.

Complications usually arise from chronic hepatitis C. So, the sooner you receive a hepatitis C diagnosis, the sooner a treatment plan can be implemented that will hopefully help avoid these complications.

Hepatitis C guidelines

There are no specific guidelines for managing your hepatitis C other than the guidelines your doctor gives you for medications that they may prescribe you. However, there are many things you can do, including lifestyle and dietary changes, that can help you manage hepatitis C and live a healthier life.

Hepatitis C screening

Hepatitis C is carried through the blood, so it’s not as easily spread as other infectious diseases. There are treatments, but some can have serious side effects. Your best option is to take steps to help prevent becoming infected.

If you’re at higher risk of getting hepatitis C than the general population, you should get regular hepatitis C screenings. If you do get hepatitis C, the sooner you know, the better your chances are for successful hepatitis C treatment.

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