What You Should Know About Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C infects the liver which removes waste products and worn out cells from the blood. If untreated hepatitis C can lead to scarring of the liver (known as cirrhosis) and cancer of the liver.  Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the most common chronic blood-borne infection in the United States with millions of Americans infected.  The hepatitis C virus can result in a swelling of the liver known as hepatitis C.  Hepatitis C is slightly more common among men than women and while it affects people of all ages it is most commonly found among those aged 20-39.  The hepatitis C virus is spread through contaminated blood and is most commonly spread through intravenous drug use because users often share needles that are contaminated with the virus.  People who had blood transfusions before 1990, when screening blood for HCV began, are also at risk. Tattooing and body piercing may also transmit hepatitis C if dye or needles contaminated with HCV are reused.

Hepatitis C is often referred to as a “silent threat” since a majority of people will have no symptoms for many years after they become infected. In fact, more than 70 percent of HCV-infected people have no idea that they are infected.  Symptoms of HCV may include Fatigue, Loss of appetite, Dark urine, Nausea with stomach pain and Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes).

Hepatitis C is a serious disease but there are many treatment options which may help infected people get rid of the virus. PEG-INTRON® (Peginterferon alfa-2b) Powder for Injection combined with riba-virin is one such treatment which has been shown to clear HCV from the blood in about half of the people taking this medication. Medical, educational and emotional support is also available for HCV-infected individuals and their families. People being treated with PEG-INTRON® and ribavirin, as well as those considering treatment can enroll in a free patient support program called The Be In Charge® Program.  This program offers 24/7 telephone access to a live nurse, many educational materials and counseling and decisions about medical treatment should always be discussed with a health care professional.  While a diagnosis of hepatitis C should be taken seriously –  taking control by seeking treatment, making healthy lifestyle changes and getting appropriate support can help make HCV a manageable disease.

In addition to treatment there are steps that people with hepatitis C can take to live healthier lives. For instance, studies have shown that avoiding heavy alcohol consumption (defined as five or more drinks per day) can reduce liver damage among people with hepatitis C.  Obesity can also contribute to more advanced liver disease and has been shown to lessen the effectiveness of certain medicines that treat HCV.

 

A Summary Of Chronic Hepatitis C Infection

Hepatitis C is a stealthy virus that mutates while hiding in liver cells and other organ cells like the spleen and gall bladder. The fact that the viral cells can hide makes it very difficult for the body’s immune system to eradicate it. Hepatitis C is a slowly progressing disease sometimes taking many years until symptoms are noticeable. It is at this point that the virus has reached advanced chronic stage and becomes difficult to eradicate. Hepatitis C results in many deaths annually and Hepatitis C is also the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.

Hepatitis C is diagnosed via a blood test. Usually, the first thing that is noticed is that the liver enzyme levels for ALT and AST are elevated well above normal levels.  Further investigation via HCV-RNA testing identifies whether the Hepatitis C virus is in your blood or not. Other tests for HCV include qualitative viral load tests which measure the RNA particles in your blood. If you are being treated for HCV your doctor is probably using either a HCV-RNA or viral load test to determine the effectiveness of the treatment.

The symptoms of Hepatitis C infection often do not occur in a person until many years after they have been infected. Since the HCV infects the liver and the liver is the organ in the body that makes all the energy for our daily activities possible, liver function deterioration often results in fatigue. Fatigue is the primary complaint or symptom of HCV infection. Other more severe symptoms are jaundice (yellowing of the skin/eyes), bile retention (which can cause jaundice), portal vein hypertension, skin rashes and itching, and autoimmune problems resulting from your body’s immune system attacking normal cells.  Long term HCV infection may result in fibrosis or even cirrhosis of the liver. Fibrosis results from unchecked liver inflammation. As the HCV infection progresses the damage to the liver results in scarring or hardening of the liver cells (fibrosis). Long term fibrosis may lead to cirrhosis which is when the scarring from fibrosis overtakes the normal liver cell structure causing deformity and loss of function in the liver.  A liver biopsy is currently the most accurate means of determining the amount of inflammation and fibrosis the liver has sustained.

Hepatitis C progression in the body can take several years or even decades to come to chronic stage or to a stage where severe liver damage is evident. This period of time allows a person to determine how to properly treat the disease and to decide on a course of disease management. Hepatitis C may often be managed by taking herbal and vitamin supplements that help your body fight infection and limit inflammation. These supplements help your liver with the inflammation and give it the nutrients it needs to regenerate healthy new cells. Your doctor can recommend alternative or adjunct solutions you may want to try.  Proper treatment of the disease, a healthy and active lifestyle, a good diet, abstinence from alcohol and stress management are important factors in controlling Hepatitis C progression.

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