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Hepatitis C: All you wanted to know

What is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a liver disease, caused when the liver gets infected by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It is considered to be more severe than other hepatitis virus infections.

12 million people in India are infected with hepatitis C and unaware of the fact that they are affected.  In most of the cases of hepatitis C, it is diagnosed at a late stage where the liver is already damaged to some extent.

Causes and risk factors

Causes

Hepatitis C virus causes hepatitis C. Hepatitis C virus spreads when one comes in contact with the contaminated blood of a person suffering from hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C does not spread by eating together, casual touching such as a handshake or a hug, coughing or sneezing by a hepatitis C infected person.

Some of the factors that can expose one to hepatitis C could be:

  • Use of infected injection needles for drugs. Sharing needles to inject drugs puts one at a high risk.
  • HIV-positive status or an individual suffering from AIDS.
  • Tattoo in an unhygienic place.
  • Infected blood transfusion.
  • Organ transplantation.
  •  Hepatitis C infection or HIV infection, during pregnancy.
  • Multiple sex partners.

Symptoms and signs

Most individuals infected with hepatitis C virus do not notice any signs of infection for a considerable time.

Symptoms occur after the person has been infected for quite some time.

Initially, individuals with hepatitis C infection experience symptoms such as:

  • Feeling tired.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin as seen in jaundice.
  • Mild fever.
  • Muscles and joints pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Light-colored stools.

Patients who have been infected with hepatitis C virus for years might experience symptoms such as:

  • Swelling in the limbs.
  • Internal bleeding.
  • Muscle shrinkage.
  • Redness of the palm.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Bruising easily.
  • Weight loss.
  • Blood vessels may look like a spider in different body parts.
  • Confusion, slurring of speech and lethargy.

Diagnosis

Based on the medical history and physical examination, the doctor may advise few tests to diagnose hepatitis C virus infection:

  • Blood test to confirm hepatitis C virus infection.
  • Liver function test to rule out liver damage by hepatitis C infection.
  • Liver biopsy to assess the damage to the liver.
  • CT scans, MRI and ultrasound to diagnose liver cancer due to hepatitis C infection.

Treatment and prevention

Treatment

Depending on the medical diagnosis, your doctor may treat you with antiviral medications.

In case, the liver is severely damaged; doctors will advise for a liver transplant along with drugs.

As a precautionary measure, you may be asked to take vaccinations for hepatitis A and B; as these hepatitis infections may further complicate the treatment of hepatitis C.

Prevention

Taking precautionary measures can safeguard you against hepatitis C infection:

  • It is highly recommended not to indulge in any kind of drug abuse. Sharing of needles and other equipment’s used in drug abuse, are the most common causes of hepatitis C virus infection.
  • Get a tattoo or body piercing done in a reputed and hygienic place. Using sterilised needles for such work is important.
  • Avoid unprotected sex with multiple partners.

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Complications

If undetected or untreated, hepatitis C can severely damage your liver. It may result in liver cancer, liver failure or lead to scarring of the liver tissue.

Next Steps

If you are at a risk of being infected with hepatitis C virus or have been experiencing symptoms as mentioned, consult your doctor to get a diagnosis for your condition.

Get yourself tested, to rule out any hepatitis virus infections.

Red flags

Seek medical help if you experience:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Repeated jaundice infections
  • Unexplained fatigue and fever

Consult a top Hepatologist

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References

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  • What I need to know about Hepatitis C –National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases –Accessed on 3 February, 2016 http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/hepatitis-c/Pages/ez.aspx
  • Hepatitis C – Medline Plus-Accessed on 3 February, 2016 https://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/hepatitisc.html
  • Viral Hepatitis –Hepatitis C information-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-Accessed on 3 February 2016, http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/
  • Epidemiology of hepatitis C virus infection & liver disease among injection drug users (IDUs) in Chennai, India-accessed on 3 February, 2016. http://icmr.nic.in/ijmr/2010/december/1209.pdf
  • Hepatitis C – World Health Organization-Accessed on 3 February, 2016 http://www.who.int/csr/disease/hepatitis/Hepc.pdf
  • Management of Hepatitis C in the Indian context: An update-Journal of liver-Accessed on 3 February, 2016 http://www.omicsgroup.org/journals/management-of-hepatitis-c-in-the-indian-context-an-update-2167-0889-1000187.pdf

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