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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, and Prevention

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. It is spread by contact with blood that contains the virus. The causes, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of hepatitis C will be discussed in this blog post. It can lead to serious complications such as liver cirrhosis, liver failure, and liver cancer.

Causes of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which has seven major strains and 67 subtypes. It is most common in the United States to contract hepatitis C through blood that has the virus and enters a person's bloodstream. Hepatitis C can be contracted in several ways.

  • Contact with contaminated blood: This can be caused by sharing needles or injecting drug equipment, getting a tattoo or piercing with contaminated needles, or receiving blood transfusions or organ transplants before 1992.

  • From mother to child: This can happen during childbirth, but it is rare.

  • Rarely, through sexual contact: This is thought to be a very rare way to contract hepatitis C.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Acute hepatitis C is the initial phase of the infection, lasting six months or less. Chronic hepatitis C is the long-term infection, lasting more than six months and causing liver damage.

70 to 80 percent of people infected with acute hepatitis C do not show symptoms at first, but those who do may experience mild to severe symptoms, including:

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)

  • Fatigue

  • Fever

  • Dark urine

  • Gastrointestinal issues

  • Loss of appetite

  • Joint pain

  • Weight loss

People with chronic hepatitis C often do not show any symptoms until the liver becomes damaged, which could be years after exposure. Symptoms can include:

  • Bleeding easily

  • Bruising easily

  • Itchy skin

  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites)

  • Swelling in the legs

  • Confusion, drowsiness, and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)

  • Spiderlike blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)

Diagnosis of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is diagnosed based on medical history, a physical exam to look for signs of liver damage, and the results from certain blood tests. The blood tests include:

  • Antibody test: This test detects antibodies to HCV in the blood, which indicate exposure to the virus. However, this test cannot tell if the infection is active or not.

  • RNA test: This test measures the amount of HCV genetic material (RNA) in the blood, which indicates an active infection. This test also determines the genotype of the virus, which helps guide treatment decisions.

  • Liver function test: This test measures the levels of enzymes and proteins in the blood that reflect how well the liver is working.

  • Liver biopsy: This test involves taking a small sample of liver tissue and examining it under a microscope for signs of inflammation and scarring.

Treatment of Hepatitis C

There are several factors that affect the treatment of hepatitis C, including the genotype of the virus, the stage of liver disease, and other medical conditions. The main goal of treatment is to eliminate HCV from the body.

Most people with chronic hepatitis C are treated with a combination of antiviral drugs that target different stages of the viral life cycle. In most cases, side effects include headaches, fatigue, nausea, and diarrhea. These drugs are taken orally for 8 to 24 weeks, based on the regimen and response.

Some examples of antiviral drugs for hepatitis C are:

  • Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi)

  • Ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni)

  • Daclatasvir (Daklinza)

  • Simeprevir (Olysio)

  • Velpatasvir/sofosbuvir (Epclusa)

  • Glecaprevir/pibrentasvir (Mavyret)

There is a high cure rate for these drugs, between 90 and 100 percent. However, some people may not respond to treatment or may relapse after treatment. In such cases, alternative or newer drugs may be used.

People with advanced liver disease may need additional treatments, such as:

  • Transjugular intrahepatic portosystemic shunt (TIPS): This procedure creates a new pathway for blood flow between the portal vein and the liver's hepatic vein. By reducing pressure in the portal vein, it prevents bleeding from varicose veins (enlarged veins) in the stomach and esophagus.

  • This surgery replaces a damaged liver with a healthy one from a donor. It is generally reserved for people with end-stage liver disease who have life-threatening complications and have not responded to other treatments.

Prevention of Hepatitis C

There is no vaccine for hepatitis C, so the best way to prevent it is to avoid exposure to the virus. Some preventive measures are:

  • Do not share needles or other injecting drug equipment with anyone.

  • Do not share personal items that may have blood on them, such as razors, toothbrushes, or nail clippers.

  • Use condoms or dental dams during sexual contact with someone who has or may have hepatitis C.

  • Get tested for hepatitis C if you have ever injected drugs, received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992, or have other risk factors.

  • If you are pregnant and have hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about how to prevent passing the virus to your baby.

With early diagnosis and effective treatment, most people can be cured of hepatitis C and live healthy lives. The infection can cause irreversible liver damage. Your doctor or healthcare provider can answer any questions or concerns you may have about hepatitis C.

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