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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Seek medical help if you experience:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Repeated jaundice infections
- Unexplained fatigue and fever
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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
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