Hepatitis C: Definition, Stages, Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a virus that causes the liver to swell. It can be a short-term (acute) or long term (chronic) infection. A long term infection can cause serious health problems but the right treatment can usually cure the virus. New antiviral medicines are the best treatment for most people with long term hepatitis C. These medicines can often cure the infection. However, many people with hepatitis C don’t know they have it because symptoms can take years to show up. Therefore, the U.S. The Preventive Services Task Force advises that all adults aged 18 to 79 should be tested for hepatitis C. This screening is recommended for everyone, even those without symptoms, or known liver diseases. For more research you can also visit Healthline. 

What is Hepatitis C?

It is a liver inflammation caused by the  virus (HCV). You can only catch or spread HCV through infected blood. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 58 million people worldwide have chronic hepatitis C. In the United States, hepatitis C is one of the most common types of hepatitis, along with hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Vaccines are available for hepatitis A and B but there is no vaccine for hepatitis C yet.

What are the Stages of Hepatitis C?

It can be short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic). Doctors define acute it as the first 6 months after infection. Usually, there are no symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may show up 2-12 weeks after exposure and might go away on their own. Chronic hepatitis C symptoms can take months or years to appear and get worse over time. You might not notice any symptoms until they become serious. If not treated, it can lead to severe and life-threatening problems, including:

  • Liver scarring (cirrhosis)
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer

What are the Causes of Hepatitis C?

Its infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It spreads when infected blood enters the bloodstream of someone who does not have the virus. Globally, hepatitis C exists in several forms, called genotypes. There are seven genotypes and 67 subtypes. In the United States, the most common genotypes are type 1. Chronic hepatitis C progresses the same way regardless of the genotype. However, treatment can vary depending on the viral genotype. Newer antiviral drugs can treat many different genotypes.

What are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Here are symptoms of it. Such as:

Acute Hepatitis C Symptoms:

It is often difficult to diagnose because it doesn’t usually have clear symptoms. This is why doctors sometimes refer to it as a silent epidemic. The symptoms of acute HCV virus are similar to those of other viral infections and can include:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Abdominal pain
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dark urine
  • Pale-colored stool
  • Joint pain
  • Yellow of the skin or eyes (jaundice) though this is rare

According to the CDC, nearly half of people with acute it naturally clear the virus from their bodies without needing treatment, and they don’t develop the chronic form of the infection. Researchers are still unsure why this happens to some people and not others.

Chronic Hepatitis C Symptoms:

It becomes chronic when the body cannot clear the virus. In many cases, chronic virus doesn’t cause noticeable symptoms or may only cause general symptoms like chronic fatigue, depression, or psychological stress. Some people discover they have the condition during a routine blood test or when screening for blood donation. Getting diagnosed early and starting treatment can prevent liver damage. If left untreated, chronic virus can lead to:

  • Chronic liver disease, which can develop slowly over several decades without causing symptoms
  • Cirrhosis, which is scarring of the liver
  • Liver failure
  • Liver cancer

What are the Risk Factors of Hepatitis C?

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that all adults aged 18 to 79 be screened for hepatitis C. Screening is especially important for people at high risk of exposure, including:

  • Anyone who has ever injected, snorted, or inhaled illegal drugs.
  • Anyone with unusual liver test results that can’t be explained.
  • Babies born to someone with the virus.
  • Pregnant people during their pregnancy.
  • Health care and emergency workers who have been in contact with blood or were stuck by a needle.
  • People with hemophilia were treated with clotting factors before 1978.
  • People who have had long-term hemodialysis.
  • People who received donated blood or organ transplants before 1992.
  • Sexual partners of someone with it.
  • People with HIV infection.
  • Men who have sex with men.
  • Sexually active people are about to start taking medicine to prevent HIV (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP).
  • Anyone who has been in prison.

What is the Diagnosis of Hepatitis C?

Your healthcare provider will start a blood test to check for the virus, beginning with an antibody test. If you’re ever had an HCV infection, your body will produce virus antibodies as part of its immune response. It may take 2-3 months after exposure for the test to detect these antibodies. If the antibodies test is positive, a nucleic acid test for RNA can tell your healthcare provider whether the virus is currently active. If you have an active HCV infection, tests to measure the amount of virus in your blood (viral load) and the determination which genotype you have will help guide the treatment plan. If blood test results suggest chronic hepatitis C or your healthcare provider thinks you might have liver damage, they will order a liver function test. This test checks your blood for signs of elevated liver enzymes. An ultrasound elastography scan can also be used to assess liver damage. A liver biopsy, which involves taking a small piece of liver tissue to test for cell abnormalities, can also check for liver damage.

What is the Treatment of Hepatitis C?

Direct acting antiviral medicines (DAAs) can cure most cases of chronic and acute virus. These modern drugs were approved by authorities in 2013 and are generally well tolerated, with common side effects like headache and fatigue. DAAs work by targeting specific stages in the hepatitis C virus (HCV) lifecycle to stop it from reproducing. Examples of DAAs used to treat virus include:

  • Elbasvir/grazoprevir (Zepatier)
  • Glecaprevir and pibrentasvir (Mavyret)
  • Ledipasvir/sofosbuvir (Harvoni)
  • Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi)
  • Pegiterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys)

This choice of medication and treatment duration depends on the virus genotype. Genotype 1a is the most common in the U.S. Before DAAs were available, treating chronic viruses was lengthy and uncomfortable, with lower cure rates. Today, cure rates exceed 90%. However, these new medications can be expensive. Most government and private health insurance plans offer some coverage for these drugs. There are also programs from drug companies and other sources that can help with costs. Consult a healthcare provider for guidance on paying for hepatitis C treatment. It’s important to note that a person can get the virus more than once. After successful treatment, steps should be taken to prevent another infection.

What are the Complications of Hepatitis C?

HCV infection causes inflammation in the liver. Over time, this can lead to permanent scarring, known as cirrhosis. Cirrhosis disrupts blood flow and reduces liver function. About 15-30% of people with chronic hepatitis C develop cirrhosis within 20 years. If cirrhosis is untreated or not managed, it can cause:

  • Increased pressure in the veins supplying blood to the liver (portal hypertension).
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites), which can lead to a serious infection called bacterial peritonitis.
  • Swelling in the leg (edema).
  • Enlarged spleen (splenomegaly).
  • Enlarged veins (varices) in the esophagus or stomach, which can cause severe bleeding (variceal hemorrhage).

Advanced liver disease can also lead to:

  • Bone disease
  • Gum disease (periodontitis)
  • Liver cancer
  • Malnutrition
  • Buildup of toxins in the brain (hepatic encephalopathy)

Chronic hepatitis C takes a long time to progress to liver failure. Liver failure or end-stage liver disease develops slowly over months to years. When the liver can no longer function properly, a liver transplant may be necessary.

What is the Prevention of Hepatitis C?

People can receive vaccines to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B, but there is currently no vaccine for the virus. To avoid getting infected it’s crucial to prevent exposure to the virus that causes it. The most effective way to prevent it is to avoid coming into contact with contaminated blood. Using non-injection drug treatments like methadone, or buprenorphine reduces the risk because they don’t involve needles. For those who continue to inject drugs, the risk of virus can be minimized by using a new needle each time, never sharing needles with others, and ensuring that all equipment and the injection site are clean and sterilized before use. Factors like obesity, smoking, diabetes, and alcohol use can speed up liver scarring in people with hepatitis C. It’s important for everyone with virus to maintain good health by:

  • Quitting smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Managing other health conditions
  • Weight loss
  • Avoiding alcohol           

FAQs:

How long can a HCV patient live?

Acute hepatitis C may go away on its own, but chronic hepatitis C can have different outcomes depending on the extent of liver damage. Complications like cirrhosis and liver cancer can shorten life expectancy to 2-12 years. Some people may live with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) without knowing they have it.

Are all types of hepatitis C curable?

Direct acting antiviral medicines (DAAs) can cure more than 95% of people with hepatitis C infection, but access to diagnosis and treatment is limited. There is currently no effective vaccine against hepatitis C.

What stops hepatitis?

In addition to vaccine, there are other simple ways to help stop the spread of hepatitis B:

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after any potential exposure to blood.
  • Use condoms with sexual partners.
  • Avoid direct contact with blood and bodily fluids.    

Is milk good for hepatitis C?

People with the virus should include healthy fats in their diet, such as:

However, not all fats are good, so it’s important to choose healthy fats carefully.

What is the best drink for hepatitis C?

If you’re living with the virus, antiviral medications can help you achieve a clean bill of health. Meanwhile, following general nutritional guidelines can boost your health. Drink plenty of water, vegetable juice, and consume moderate amounts of protein shakes.

What is the best home remedy for hepatitis C?

Some food and herbs, like coffee licorice root, and milk thistle, may help prevent complications and improve overall liver health. However, if you have a chronic hepatitis C infection the only way to cure it is with prescribed antiviral medications.

What is the best vitamin for hepatitis C?

It’s best to get your vitamins and minerals from a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats, according to Prasad. However, new evidence suggests that certain vitamins may benefit people with the virus. For example, vitamins B12 and vitamin D may enhance the effectiveness of some standard hepatitis drugs.    

How is hepatitis transmitted?

The virus is primarily spread when an uninfected (and unvaccinated) person consumes food or water contaminated with the faces feces of an infected person. The disease is closely linked to unsafe water or food, inadequate sanitation, poor personal hygiene, and oral-anal sex. 

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