28 Jul 2017

How To Know If You Have Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C (Hep C) is a virus that leads to a liver disease of the same name. So how do you know if you have it?

First, it’s important to know that there are two different types of Hepatitis C infection. Acute and chronic. In its acute form, symptoms can be mild and last only a few weeks. In some cases, there might not even be any symptoms.

Chronic Hep C is much more serious and has a life-long impact. 20% of the 170 million people estimated to have the Hep C virus will develop cirrhosis within ten years. Cirrhosis is when there is so much scar tissue in your liver that it can no longer work the way it’s supposed to.

What Are The Possible Indicators of An Acute Hep C Infection?

  • Fatigue
  • Decreased appetite
  • Jaundice
  • Dark urine
  • Whitish stool
  • Extensive itching

The problem is that these symptoms can be indicators of many other conditions. That means they rarely trigger enough alarm bells to send people to the doctor for testing. And the problem with that is that in 50-70% of cases, an acute Hep C infection becomes chronic.

If you develop a chronic Hep C infection, you may notice swelling in your legs and you might bruise more easily. Nose bleeds or bleeding gums are also more common.

How Can I Be Sure That I Have Hep C?

The best way to diagnose Hep C is with a blood test or, if your doctor already suspects chronic Hep C, with a liver biopsy. Another way to improve the odds of catching the infection early is to be aware of the risk factors. They include:

  • Blood transfusions
  • Shared needles and syringes (drug users)
  • Tattoos and piercings
  • Sexual intercourse
  • Mother to child transmission (this does not include breastfeeding)
  • Shared toothbrushes or razors
  • Surgical history
  • Hospital equipment malfunction (accidental needle stick)

Remember, these are just some of the risk factors. Even if none of them apply to you, you can still contract the virus.

What Happens If I Do Have Hep C?

There are different ways to treat Hep C. Many of the options involve antiviral therapy. In approximately 54% of cases, treatment removes the virus from the patient’s blood stream. The success of the treatment also depends on the timing of the diagnosis. The earlier the diagnosis, the better the chance of successful treatment.

That said, even patients with cirrhosis can be treated effectively with these therapies. This helps to reduce their risk of liver cancer or improve their odds of getting a liver transplant.  

Treatment is also available to control Hep C's symptoms.  There are diuretics that can help reduce water retention. Similarly, vitamins and blood pressure medications can limit the risk of excessive bleeding.


Source: Ochsner Health System

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