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Hepatitis Type C

You have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, also called HCV. Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. In your case, it is from an infection with the Hepatitis C virus.

Causes

The most common causes of hepatitis are viruses. Alcohol and drug abuse, chemical toxins, and autoimmune disorders can also cause hepatitis.

When a virus causes hepatitis, it is called viral hepatitis. The hepatitis viruses A, B, and C commonly cause viral hepatitis. Other viral infections can also cause hepatitis, such as the viruses that cause mononucleosis and chicken pox.

What all the hepatic (liver) viruses have in common is that once they are transmitted to you, they infect the liver and then cause inflammation (hepatitis). The different viruses are spread in different ways, but all of them can affect your health over a long time. Possible complications include cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.

HCV is commonly spread through injection of contaminated body fluids or blood products, transfusions, or IV drug use. It can also be spread through tattoos or piercing with nonsterile instruments, or certain medical procedures. Although it is possible to get hepatitis C from someone you are close to and from sexual contact, the chances are very low.

There is currently no vaccine for HCV. Avoiding the common causes is the best way to avoid infection.

Symptoms

Many people with hepatitis B and C have no symptoms or only mild ones when they are first infected. Often this is also the case for many years afterwards. However, HCV it can cause damage to your liver, and it can become chronic in some people. Symptoms in the early stages can include:

  • Tiredness, fatigue, or weakness

  • Low-grade fever

  • Loss of appetite

  • Upset stomach, nausea, or vomiting

  • Abdominal pain

  • Dark-colored urine

  • Light-colored or pale stool

  • Yellow color of the skin or eyes (jaundice)

These symptoms can be caused by many different conditions. Because these symptoms are not specific to HCV, many people are not diagnosed for a long time. HCV can become chronic in more than half of people who are infected. Chronic HCV infection means that you carry the virus and can spread the disease to others. Most people with chronic infection (about 70%) will develop some degree of chronic liver disease. For many, this may cause no symptoms or long-term effects, but there is a 20% chance of eventually getting cirrhosis (scarring). Heavy alcohol drinkers and people with chronic hepatitis B infection are at greatest risk for long-term problems.

Anyone who has hepatitis C needs to be checked by their healthcare provider at least once a year. This is to be sure the liver inflammation is not getting worse. There is no vaccine yet for hepatitis C. However, there is an effective treatment. You can discuss this treatment with your healthcare provider.

Home care

  • A diet low in saturated fats and high in fruits and vegetables is best for you and your liver. Have small, frequent meals if you experience nausea.

  • If you are having symptoms of hepatitis, you may fatigue easily. Get lots of rest. Don't exert yourself too much.

  • Acetaminophen and anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen and naproxen can be toxic to the liver in high doses, with prolonged use, or in the presence of existing liver damage.

    • If you have hepatitis, you should not take these medicines until you talk about them with your healthcare provider.

    • If you have only mild or no liver damage from chronic hepatitis, you may take acetaminophen in low doses (2 grams per 24 hours). Do not take anti-inflammatory medicines. Never take acetaminophen with alcohol, since this increases the risk of liver damage.

  • Alcohol stresses the liver. People with hepatitis should avoid it. It can worsen the disease.

Preventing the spread of hepatitis

  • HCV is most often spread by blood contact. Never share needles, syringes, tattoo equipment, or snorting straws.

  • Do not try to donate blood, organs, tissues, or semen.

  • Do not share razors or toothbrushes.

  • If you need medical or dental care, inform the staff that you have hepatitis.

  • If you are pregnant or plan to become pregnant, tell your healthcare provider. There is a small chance that hepatitis C can be transmitted to the unborn baby. HCV is not passed in breast milk.

  • The risk of spreading the virus through sex is low, especially in monogamous relationships. Standard safer-sex practices, including the use of latex condoms, are advised if you have sex with more than one partner. There is no need to change your sexual practices if you are in a long-term, monogamous relationship.

  • The risk of household spread is low. There is no need to avoid close contact or sharing of meals or utensils.

  • HCV does not involve any restrictions on work.

Follow-up care

Follow up with your healthcare provider, or as advised. Ask about hepatitis A and B vaccines. You are at greater risk of getting these types of the disease, and they could cause more damage to your liver. Your sexual partner should contact their healthcare provider and have a test to see if they have been infected with HCV.

If X-rays, a CT scan, or an ultrasound were done, they will be reviewed by a specialist. You will be notified of the results, especially if they affect treatment.

Call 911

Call emergency services right away if any of these occur:

  • Trouble breathing or swallowing, wheezing

  • Confusion

  • Extreme drowsiness or trouble awakening

  • Fainting or loss of consciousness

  • Rapid heart rate

When to seek medical advice

Call your healthcare provider right away if any of these occur:

  • Frequent vomiting

  • Weight loss from poor appetite

  • Increase in abdominal pain or swelling

  • Increasing drowsiness or confusion

  • Weakness or dizziness

  • New or increasing yellow color of skin or eyes

  • Bleeding from the gums or nose, or easy bruising

 

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