Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver, causing inflammation and eventual liver damage. Unfortunately, it is an asymptomatic disease - meaning a patient will not usually experience symptoms. This is extremely unfortunate as in many cases an individual doesn't realize s/he is infected until serious liver damage has occurred. It can take decades for damage to show up in tests for liver function.
Hepatitis C is considered the most serious of the Hepatitis viral strains. It is only passed via blood, and is most commonly contracted by infected needles used and/or shared in illegal IV drug use.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Hepatitis is considered asymptomatic in its earliest stages. However, by the time years have passed and enough damage has been done to the liver, flu-like symptoms can emerge. Individuals who are at risk for Hepatitis C should be tested regularly. Otherwise, the following symptoms should prompt an immediate visit to a health care professional.
- Achy joints and/or muscles
- Poor appetite
- Tenderness in the liver*
*the liver is housed behind the stomach, predominantly in the upper right of the abdominal cavity, under the diaphragm. It is protected by the rib cage.
Blood tests are used to screen for the Hepatitis C virus. If test results are positive, a doctor will most likely order a liver biopsy (a small sample of liver tissue that is tested in a lab) to assess the level of liver damage that has occurred.
Who Is At Risk For Contracting Hepatitis C?
The majority of patients diagnosed with Hepatitis C have contracted the disease via infected needles, however, there are others who are at risk if they are not able to take precautions:
- Healthcare professionals who have been directly exposed to infected blood
- HIV carriers
- Anyone who has had a piercing or tattoo from a business that doesn't adhere to proper sterilizing techniques
- Patients who have received an organ or blood transplant prior to 1992
- Anyone who received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
- Individuals who have undergone extended periods of hemodialysis
- Children born to a woman who was carrying the Hepatitis C virus
- Sexual contact - it is extremely rare that Hepatitis is contracted from sexual contact but it is possible.
It is important to note that all donated blood from 1992 to present has been tested for the Hepatitis C virus. Recent blood transplant recipients have zero risk for contracting the disease.
Complications From Hepatitis C
Because the disease manifests over a long period of time, liver damage can be extensive by the time it is diagnosed. Complications can include the following:
- Liver scarring (cirrhosis) - the most common complication with Hepatitis C
- Liver cancer - liver cancer affects a small percentage of patients
- Liver failure - if damage has progressed over a long enough time, the liver may be unable to recover
Is There a Cure For Hepatitis C?
The good news is that Hepatitis C can be successfully treated as long as it is caught before serious liver damage has occurred. Current methods of treatment include:
- Anti-viral medication
- Lifestyle and dietary changes to promote healing and immune system function
- Nutrient therapy to boost nutrition through the duration of the anti-viral medication course
- Liver Transplant - only in those cases where severe liver damage has occurred
Anyone who feels s/he is at risk for Hepatitis C should schedule a blood test as soon as possible. Early detection can be instrumental towards insuring a healthy and successful recovery.
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