Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation and infection of the liver. This condition develops after being infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV). Hepatitis C can be either acute or chronic.
The symptoms of acute hepatitis C set in quickly and last a few weeks, whereas chronic hepatitis C symptoms develop over a period of months and may not be apparent at first. The World Health Organization (WHO) states that over 130-150 million people have chronic hepatitis C.
Unlike hepatitis A and B, there’s no vaccine for hepatitis C, although efforts to create one continue. Hepatitis C is highly contagious, which explains the high number of people with the disease. The disease is found worldwide. Egypt has the highest percentage of chronic hepatitis C cases.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state that 80 percent of people with hepatitis C don’t have symptoms. While this is true, some people complain of mild to severe symptoms, such as:
- a fever
- dark urine
- a loss of appetite
- abdominal pain or discomfort
- joint pain
The symptoms may not show up right away and can take between six to seven weeks to appear.
Hepatitis C is transmitted through blood contaminated with HCV. It can be spread through:
- organ transplants
- blood transfusions
- sharing personal items, such as razors or toothbrushes
- touching contaminated blood
- sharing drug needles
- giving birth (from a mother to their baby)
Some forms of hepatitis are spread sexually, but hepatitis C is less likely to be spread through sexual means than through other means.
People who have a high risk of developing hepatitis C include those who have:
- had a blood transfusion before 1992
- received an organ transplant
- received clotting factor concentrates or other blood products before 1987
- received hemodialysis treatment for a long period
- been born to a mother with hepatitis
- have a sexual partner who’s infected with hepatitis
- used drug needles contaminated with infected blood
- used needles contaminated with infected blood for tattoos or piercings
- injected illegal drugs
Based on the symptoms alone, your doctor may not have enough evidence to diagnose you with hepatitis C. It’s important to let your doctor know if you’ve been exposed to hepatitis C.
If your doctor suspects you have the condition, they may order a series of blood tests to check for signs of HCV. Blood tests can also measure the amount of HCV in your blood. If you’re infected, a genotyping test can be used to see which treatment will work best for you.
If your doctor thinks you have liver damage, they’ll then prescribe a liver function test to check your urine and blood for signs of heightened enzymes from your liver.
Another test to check for liver damage is a liver biopsy. Your doctor will take a small piece of tissue from your liver and test it for cell abnormalities.
Not everyone infected with hepatitis C will need treatment as some people’s immune systems may be able to overcome the infection on their own. There are several options for treating hepatitis C. Treatment is usually reserved for those with serious liver damage and scarring, and no other conditions that prevent treatment.
Past hepatitis C treatment regimens required weekly injections for 48 weeks, which carried the risk of significant and sometimes life-threatening side effects. Newly developed antiviral medications now have higher cure rates and fewer adverse side effects. They also require a shorter treatment period. Your doctor may decide if antiviral treatment is likely to provide more benefit than harm. Your doctor will likely recommend bed rest to help your body save energy to fight off the disease.
Your doctor may also create a nutrition plan to keep you from malnourishment or dehydration. According to the Mayo Clinic, some people with hepatitis C don’t need treatment because they have only minor liver abnormalities. If that’s the case, your doctor will probably want to monitor your liver function with regular blood tests.
Complications from hepatitis C include liver scarring, cirrhosis, and liver cancer.
Some people with hepatitis C may need a liver transplant.
The sooner hepatitis C is diagnosed and treated, the better the chances are of getting rid of it. Complications usually arise from chronic hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is carried through the blood. You can prevent contracting it by making sure you wash your hands after coming into contact with surfaces or shaking hands with people, avoiding the use of illegal drugs, and avoiding sharing needles with anyone.
It’s also good practice for you and your sexual partner to get tested for hepatitis C.
Written by: April Kahn
Published on Aug 20, 2012
Medically reviewed on Feb 25, 2016 by [Ljava.lang.Object;@734bed9d