Don't let hepatitis C stop you from living a healthier life. Learn about the early warning signs of hepatitis C so you can treat it early.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C Often Go Unnoticed
Hepatitis C is an infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus which is a single-stranded RNA virus. It infects the liver cells and can lead to inflammation, scarring and severe liver damage over time. An acute case of hepatitis C has the potential to be a chronic infection in roughly 85% of cases. In some, it can cause liver failure (also known as liver cirrhosis) and eventually lead to death.
It’s important to know what hepatitis C is and be aware of the symptoms of hepatitis C. If untreated, it can cause extensive liver damage. The following article covers everything you need to know about hepatitis C: what hepatitis C is, what are symptoms of hepatitis C are and how we can treat hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C Symptoms
More than 50% of people with hepatitis C infections often have no signs or symptoms until extensive liver damage has occurred. People may even go through their daily activities without knowing they are infected with it. During the acute infection, people may experience nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, decreased appetite, light jaundice or occasional abdominal pain. They may sometimes dismiss this and not seek treatment for it.
Because the liver can heal itself, some hepatitis C infections resolve on their own. However, a percentage of patients develop chronic infections. This can lead to chronic inflammation which can cause scarring of the liver tissue (also known as a fibrosis) or nodule formation.
Around 20% of patients have a chronic case that can lead to irreparable liver damage (cirrhosis). During this stage, symptoms of end-stage liver disease appear. This includes marked jaundice and fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites).
Damaged livers can lead to blockage in the blood flow to the liver which is rerouted to the small blood vessels in the esophagus and lead to esophageal varices. These can rupture and cause bleeding.
Because the liver is also where anticoagulants and clotting factors are synthesized, coagulopathy occurs, increasing the risk of bleeding. Hepatitis C infection also has the potential to progress to liver cancer in under 5% of cases.
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How Do You Know if You Have Hepatitis C Infection?
The only way to know for certain that you have contracted hepatitis C is to get tested. This can be done through blood tests. The lab will look for antibodies to the virus in your blood. If you have been infected with hepatitis C, your body will create antibodies to fight infection.
Antibodies stay in your system even after you have been cured of the virus. You may have been infected with hepatitis C if your blood sample produces antibodies to the virus. Your doctor will conduct additional testing to determine if your antibodies are specific to hepatitis C or if they were produced by another virus.
Now, screening for infections such as hepatitis C is more common, especially for high-risk individuals.
How is Hepatitis C Transmitted?
Hepatitis C is a bloodborne pathogen. As such, it is transmitted via contact with the blood of someone infected with the virus. Certain people have a higher risk for infection: this includes people who have injected illicit drugs, healthcare workers who have been exposed to blood or children born to mothers with hepatitis C.
Because of routine blood screenings, the transmission of hepatitis C through blood transfusion is now low. Breastfeeding, and sharing of body fluids like saliva through kissing, or sharing of food are not causes of transmission of hepatitis C.
Treatment for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can resolve on its own. However, patients can be treated to prevent the progression of the disease, to stop irreparable liver damage and to reduce mortality. There are antivirals that can be given to patients with acute infection.
For chronic infection, antivirals which can be combined with cytokines are found to increase the immune response against hepatitis C. These should only be started by your physician. Some patients with severe liver failure are referred to specialists for multi-systemic care.
There is still no vaccine to prevent hepatitis C. The best way to prevent infection is by avoiding high-risk activities such as exposure to needles. If you think you may be at risk for hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about getting tested.