Contributed by: Priyaish Srivastava
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C (HCV) is a transmitted or contagious disease that affects the liver and causes symptoms that are often overlooked. It mainly occurs due to blood-to-blood transfusion or sexually transmitted diseases (bodily fluids). Hepatitis C is the most prominent cause of liver cancer and liver transplant and can cause serious liver damage. The most common hepatitis in India is hepatitis A virus (HAV) and hepatitis E virus (HEV) that are considered endemic (found in a particular place or a particular group of people). According to a survey Punjab, Haryana, Andhra Pradesh, Puducherry, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram are the most commonly affected areas by hepatitis C.
This article will provide you with critical information about hepatitis C, such as its types, symptoms, causes, diagnosis & treatment for hepatitis C. You will also learn about the foods that can help you in controlling the disease.
Types of hepatitis C
- Acute hepatitis C: In the case of acute hepatitis, the symptoms do not last for more than a few weeks. Acute hepatitis sets in about 6 weeks after a person gets infected. It’s a short duration illness and the majority of the infected recover on their own with little to no medical intervention required.
- Chronic hepatitis C: If your Hep C condition is chronic, the symptoms may go unnoticed at first as they take from months to years to develop and have the potential to cause severe damage to your liver leading to conditions like cirrhosis, liver failure, and even liver cancer. Chronic hepatitis occurs when the infection exceeds 6 months after a person gets infected.
Symptoms of hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a sneaky disease that may or may not cause any symptoms. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 80% of the infected individuals do not exhibit any Hepc C symptoms. However, doctors recommend undergoing routine liver tests to confirm whether or not you have been exposed to hepatitis C.
Acute hepatitis C symptoms:
- Stomach ache
- Clay-colored poop
- Poor appetite
- Joint pain
Chronic hepatitis C symptoms:
If hepatitis C is not diagnosed and treated in the acute stage it can evolve into a chronic form and lead to long-lasting fatal diseases like liver failure or liver cancer. Following are the symptoms of chronic hepatitis C:
- Abnormal weight loss
- Fluid build up in your stomach (ascites)
- Swollen legs
- Getting injured and bleeding easily than non-infected people
- Itchy skin and rashes
- Easy bruising
- A problem in taking decisions, speaking, and always feeling sleepy
Causes of hepatitis C
The HCV virus is mostly transmitted through blood or unprotected sexual activities, and through the exchange of bodily fluids. If you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus once, there are chances that you can be affected again. The HCV virus can enter your body through the following mediums:
- Organ transplant from an HCV infected person
- Sharing personal use tools like toothbrushes, tongue cleaners, or razors
- Injection of used needles
- An HCV affected mother can pass on the disease to her newborn
- Getting pierced or tattooed with infected or used needles
- Having unprotected sex with a person who has or had hepatitis C
- Using or injecting drugs
- HIV infection
- If you are on kidney dialysis
- Being a healthcare worker and getting exposed to needles or blood with HCV virus
As against common misconceptions, the HCV virus can’t be transmitted by:
- Sharing food
- Mosquito bites
Diagnosis of hepatitis C
Numerous studies have established that you may not show the symptoms if affected by the hep C virus. Undertaking the following testing and diagnosis will help protect you and your family from the long-term effects of the virus.
This test determines the number of antibodies produced by your body to fight against the HCV virus. It is usually conducted 12 weeks after the infection. It is the period when your immune system detects the HCV virus in your blood and produces proteins to fight against them. Generally, the results are out within 24 hours and will either be negative – meaning your blood does not have any HCV antibodies and you have not contracted the virus, or positive – meaning you have been affected by the virus.
HCV RNA is a blood test that measures the viral load of the HCV virus in your bloodstream and accurately detects the presence of the virus a few weeks after the exposure. A negative test report indicates that you have not been affected, and a positive test report indicates that you are currently infected with hepatitis C.
Tests after the diagnosis of Hep C virus:
If the diagnosis indicates that you have been affected by the HCV virus, the following tests help determine the treatment.
There are six varieties of genotypes of HCV viruses. Your doctor will conduct a genotype test to determine the kind that has affected you and initiate the treatment.
An LFT or liver function test is conducted after seven to eight weeks of HCV infection. It measures the level of proteins and enzymes in your liver because after the infection these enzymes start to leak and mix with your bloodstream. This can lead to further to a rapid increase of the specific enzymes and proteins related to the infection.
Hepatitis C treatment
As mentioned earlier, not all hepatitis C cases require treatment, especially the acute stage, wherein the immune system of most of the infected is sufficient to defeat the virus. Although hepatitis C can turn into a fatal disease, researchers have proved that it can be cured. An early diagnosis can help manage the disease in its initial stage and assure a healthy life for you.
According to WHO, more than 95% of hepatitis C cases be can be cured by taking prescribed direct-acting antiviral (DAA) medications. Following a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a healthy diet also contributes to controlling and improving the condition.
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