Understanding Hepatitis C

By Gastroenterology Associates of S.W. Florida –

Understanding Hepatitis CHepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and leads to inflammation. The liver is is responsible for removing toxins from the blood, fighting infections, digesting food, and storing nutrients, vitamin and energy. Inflammation from an infection caused by Hepatitis C can prevent the liver from working properly.

Who gets Hepatitis C
Anyone can get Hepatitis C, but some people are at higher risk for contracting the infection, including:

  • People who were born to a mother with Hepatitis C.
  • People who have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease.
  • People who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • People with hemophilia who received blood products before 1987.
  • People who have used illegal injection drugs.
  • People who have received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment.

Symptoms
Hepatitis C infection usually produces no signs or symptoms during its earliest stages. When signs and symptoms do occur, they’re generally mild and flu-like and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Nausea and poor appetite
  • Muscle and joint pains
  • Tenderness in the area of your liver

Complications
Hepatitis C infection that continues over many years can cause significant complications, such as:

  • Scarring of the liver tissue (Cirrhosis), which makes it difficult for the liver to function properly.
  • Liver cancer: A small number of people with Hepatitis C may develop liver cancer.
  • Liver failure: A liver that is severely damaged by Hepatitis C may be unable to function.

How Is Hepatitis C diagnosed?
Hepatitis C is diagnosed through blood tests. The blood test will measure the quantity of the Hepatitis C virus in your blood (viral load) and evaluate the genetic makeup of the virus (genotyping). Knowing the viral load and the genotype of the virus helps determine which treatment option will provide the best results for each individual case.

Treatment and Drugs
Hepatitis C infection is treated with antiviral medications intended to clear the virus from your body. An additional medication called a protease inhibitor may be added depending on the Hepatitis C genotype. Treatment lasts from 24 to 48 weeks. The antivirals can cause depression and flu-like signs and symptoms, such as fatigue, fever and headache. Some side effects can be serious enough that treatment must be delayed or stopped in certain cases.

Liver Transplant
If the liver has been severely damaged, a liver transplant may be needed. For people with Hepatitis C infection, a liver transplant is not a cure. Treatment with antiviral medications usually continues after a liver transplant, since Hepatitis C infection is likely to recur in the new liver.

Vaccinations Protect Against Other Forms of Viral Hepatitis
Generally, the treating physician will recommend that someone with Hepatitis C receive vaccines against the Hepatitis A and B viruses. These are separate viruses that can also cause liver damage and complicate treatment of Hepatitis C.

Prevention
Protect yourself from Hepatitis C infection by taking the following precautions:

  • Stop using illicit drugs. If you use illicit drugs, seek help. If you can’t stop, don’t share needles and drug paraphernalia.
  • Be cautious about body piercing and tattooing. If you choose to undergo piercing or tattooing, look for a reputable shop. Ask questions about how the equipment is cleaned. Make sure employees use sterile needles. If employees won’t answer your questions, look for another shop.
  • Practice safe sex if you choose to have sex.
  • Don’t engage in unprotected sex with multiple partners or with any partners whose health status is uncertain. Sexual transmission between monogamous couples may occur, but the risk is low.

Points to Remember:
Hepatitis C is a liver disease caused by the Hepatitis C virus. Anyone can get Hepatitis C, but some people are at higher risk. Get tested if you are at higher risk or think you may have been exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. Many people do not know they are infected. Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent liver damage. Hepatitis C is treated with drugs that slow or stop the virus from damaging the liver.

Gastroenterology Associates of SW Florida P.A.
www.giaswfl.com | 239.275.8882

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