Hepatitis C is a type of viral infection that leads to severe liver inflammation. In certain extreme cases, it might even lead to damage to the liver. Hepatitis spreads through contaminated blood. At first, the treatment involved oral medications and repeated injections. However, many infected with the condition couldn’t take in the medications and injections at the recommended frequency because of the side effects. However, today, all of this is changing. Now, hepatitis C is curable in most cases, and the treatment involves the consumption of oral medications every day for at least two to six months.
Despite it all, more than half of people who have hepatitis C aren’t aware of it. This is because they are asymptomatic. In a lot of people, the symptoms might take decades to show. This is why adults between the ages 18 – 79 need to get screened for the HCV regularly, even if they do not show any signs.
HCV is chronic if the infection and its symptoms do not cure for a long period. Chronic hepatitis C is mostly a silent infection for several years. Over time, the symptoms aggravate and damage the liver, which might lead to signs of liver disease. Some common symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Bruising or bleeding easily
- Itchy skin
- Urine gets darker in color
- Ascites meaning a buildup of fluid in the abdomen
- Visible swelling of the legs
- Loss of weight
- Slurred speech
- Extreme drowsiness
- Constant state of confusion
- Appearance of spider-like vessels on the surface of the skin
However, it is important to note that a chronic infection in hepatitis C initiates from an acute phase. Mostly, the acute phase goes undiagnosed because it rarely shows any symptoms. When the signs show, they are mostly seen as muscle aches, nausea, fever, and fatigue. The symptoms of acute hepatitis C appear only after one to three months, post-exposure to the virus. The symptoms may last for up to three months.
The good thing is acute hepatitis doesn’t necessarily convert into chronic hepatitis. There are a lot of people who have been cured of this condition even after the acute phase. It is known as viral clearance. Acute hepatitis C can be treated via antiviral therapy.
The infection of hepatitis C is caused by HCV or hepatitis C virus. Over time, the infection spreads through contaminated blood. The virus is found in multiple forms, primarily called the genotypes. A total of eight genotypes and their 67 subtypes are found. Currently, in the country, the most common HCV genotype is type 1. Irrespective of the genotype, the course of chronic hepatitis C is pretty much the same. However, the treatment method may be variable and would depend on the genotype.
Common risk factors
One is likely to get hepatitis C infection if:
- They have HIV
- Have inhaled or injected drugs that are illicit
- They are a health care worker who’s been exposed to infected blood
- They have used an unsterile needle
- Got a piercing done via an unsterile equipment
- Received organ transplant before 1992
- Got a blood transfusion before 1992
- Underwent hemodialysis for a prolonged time
- The mother has had hepatitis C
- Were born between 1945 to 1965
If hepatitis C continues over the years, it can cause serious complications. These include:
Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver. It might make it difficult for the liver to function normally. Cirrhosis usually occurs a decade after being infected with hepatitis C.
- Liver failure
If cirrhosis is cured in its advanced stage, it can cause liver failure.
- Liver cancer
A small percentage of people who have had hepatitis C also have liver cancer.
One can now protect themself from the infection caused by hepatitis C by taking a few necessary precautions. These include:
- Be careful when getting a piercing or a tattoo
Before getting a piercing or tattoo, please go to a reputable place. Enquire about sanitation with regards to the equipment. Moreover, ensure that the needles used are sterile. In case the employees refuse to answer questions related to hygiene, consider going elsewhere.
- Stop using illicit drugs
Anyone who has been injecting illicit drugs must seek immediate help. Try going to a drug de-addiction center for help.
- Engage in safe sex only
Never engage in any sexual activity with someone without protection, especially if unsure about their health status. Also, when engaging with multiple partners, be extra cautious. Though the risk is low, there’s still a possibility of transmission of infection in monogamous couples.
As discussed, adults between the age of 18 to 79 must undergo regular screening for hepatitis C, even if they do not show any specific symptoms related to liver disease. This screening is important if one has a relatively higher risk of exposure.
- Additional blood tests
In case there’s a sign of hepatitis C in the initial blood tests, additional blood tests will be taken. It will help measure the progression of the condition and analyze the virus’ genotype
- Liver damage tests
To examine the degree of liver damage because of hepatitis C, doctors will perform a few additional tests.
- Blood tests
Doctors will perform a bunch of blood tests to determine the degree of fibrosis in the liver.
- Liver biopsy
It is primarily performed with ultrasound guidance. In this, a thin needle is inserted via the wall of the abdomen to take out a small sample from the liver.
It is a rather non-invasive option for liver biopsy. Under this, the MRE technology is combined with the patterns depicted by the sound waves from the liver, and their amalgam is used to compose a visual map that depicts the degree of stiffness present in the liver. If the liver is stiff, it could be because of scarring, which could have occurred because of hepatitis C.
- Transient elastography
It is also a non-invasive diagnose measure. Similar to ultrasound, in transient elastography, the vibrations are transmitted into the liver to ascertain the dispersal speed of the liver tissues. This speed will help figure out the stiffness in the liver.
Several antiviral medications are used for the treatment of hepatitis C. The objective of these medications is to get rid of the virus. This treatment measure is performed to help the body become virus-free after three months from the date of treatment.
The development of these medicines has helped a large number of people. Today, the direct-acting medications are used together with existing medications. Consequently, the people suffering from hepatitis C showcase minimum side effects, shorter healing time, and better results. Sometimes, the effect starts showing in less than eight weeks. In all cases, the type of medication, duration of treatment, prior treatments, any other medical condition would depend on the genotype of hepatitis C. Thanks to the advancement in research, the recommendation for treatment and medicine is continually growing. Thus, it is best to discuss all the available treatment options with a doctor before starting a course. It is also important because the care team monitors the treatment and its impact.
People who suffer from severe complications because of the infection of hepatitis C might opt for liver transplantation. In this method, the surgeon will replace the damaged liver from the body with a healthy liver. Usually, these transplanted livers are acquired from a donor. However, a tiny percentage of it is also acquired from living donors who give away a small portion of healthy livers. Truth be told, a liver transplant is not a cure for chronic hepatitis C. Sometimes, the infection might relapse. So, to prevent any damage to this newly transplanted liver, an antiviral medication or any other relevant treatment is needed. There’s sufficient evidence to believe that the latest direct-acting medication is incredibly effective to treat hepatitis C after a transplant. However, this combination of treatment of antivirals and direct-acting medications is possible in only a few patients before liver transplantation.
Sadly, there are no vaccinations as such available for the treatment of hepatitis C. However, doctors will recommend vaccination for hepatitis A and B. Moreover, if one gets either of the two viruses (A and B) when suffering from hepatitis C, the liver’s damage might be severe. It will also deteriorate the symptoms of hepatitis C.
Once diagnosed with hepatitis C, the doctor will recommend a bundle of lifestyle changes. These measures will help one stay healthier and will protect the health of others around them.
- Quit alcohol
When suffering from hepatitis C, the liver is already prone to damage. So, the consumption of alcohol is only going to aggravate the liver damage.
- Do not consume medicines that might lead to liver damage
Before consuming any medicines, it is best to get them reviewed by an expert. Sometimes, even over-the-counter medication might not be good for the liver. So, always seek professional advice.
- Protect others
People with hepatitis C need to be extra careful to ensure that nobody comes in contact with their blood. So, always cover any wounds. Further, never share personal hygiene products like toothbrushes or razors. Also, refrain from donating semen, body organ, or blood. Further, before undergoing any treatment, inform the healthcare worker about hepatitis C. Also, inform any sexual partner about the condition.
Diet and hepatitis C
To ensure good health, it is important to get the requisite nutrients. All of this will positively impact the immune system and help in proper weight management. For people with hepatitis C, weight management is important, as being obese might cause hepatic steatosis. It can make it even harder to tame the condition. Furthermore, people with hepatitis C are more prone to type 2 diabetes, so keeping a check on sugar intake is also important.
Foods to eat
It is essential to consume all the right nutrients. Eating right will help strengthen the immune system and manage weight.
Some foods to add to the diet include:
- Vegetables and fruits
- Protein including soy products and nuts
- Dairy including cheese, milk, and yogurt
- Whole grains, including oats, white or brown rice, quinoa pasta, whole wheat, whole-grain bread, buckwheat
Foods to avoid
It is important to keep a check on one’s diet to fight a disease. So, in the battle against hepatitis C, some foods that should be restricted are: