What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes an inflammation of the liver, and can sometimes lead to severe liver damage. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) spreads through contaminated blood in the body. Once very difficult to treat, HCV can now be cured with oral medications. This is welcomed information, considering that about half of the people infected with HCV don’t know they have it. This mainly due to the fact that some people with hepatitis C have no symptoms, which can often take decades to appear. For this reason, the CDC recommends that those with an increased risk of the infection get a one-time screening blood test. The largest group of people at risk are those born between 1945 and 1965. Your are five times more likely to be infected with HCV if you were born between those years.
What are the signs and symptoms?
Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection with HCV and it is known as a “silent” infection. The signs and symptoms often do not show up until the virus damages the liver enough to cause them. The most common signs and symptoms include:
- Jaundice (yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes)
- Bleeding easily
- Dark-colored urine
- Bruising easily
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss
- Swelling in the legs
- Spider angiomas (spider-like blood vessels on the skin)
- Fluid buildup in the abdomen
- Hepatic encephalopathy (drowsiness, slurred speech and confusion)
All chronic hepatitis C infections start with an acute phase. During this phase, symptoms are rare and the virus usually goes undiagnosed. If you do experience symptoms, they will most likely include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, muscle aches and fever. Acute symptoms may appear 1-3 months after exposure to HCV and last 2 weeks to 3 months. Acute HCV does not always become chronic. In some cases, the virus may leave the body after the acute phase.
What are the causes?
With hepatitis C, the infection is caused by the virus. The infection spreads when blood contaminated with the virus enters the bloodstream of an uninfected person. HCV exists globally in several different forms, known as genotypes. In North America and Europe, the most common genotype is type 1. Your treatment recommendations will depend on the viral genotype. Risk factors for HCV include:
- Being exposed to infected blood
- Being born between 1945 and 1965
- Having HIV
- Injecting or inhaling illicit drugs
- Getting a tattoo or piercing with unsterile equipment
- Having received an organ transplant or blood transfusion before 1992
- Having received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
- Having received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
- Being born to a woman with a hepatitis C infection
Schedule an appointment in Fairbanks, Alaska
Hepatitis C infections can lead to very severe issues, including cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer. It is very important to get screened if you are at an increased risk for HCV. Practicing safe sex, being cautious about tattooing and piercing and ceasing the use of illicit, injectable drugs are all recommended. If you are infected with HCV, schedule an appointment to get the proper medications. At our medical practice in Fairbanks, we specialize in hepatitis C treatment. To get professional medical help from experienced providers near you, call us at (907) 451-1174 or fill out the appointment request form on our site.
*Individual results may vary; not a guarantee.