Inflammation of the liver is called hepatitis. Hepatitis C is caused by hepatitis C virus (HCV). This virus attacks the cells of liver causing inflammation of the liver. Usually there are no symptoms seen in people having hepatitis C virus infection. This infection does not show up for decades until the liver damage is noticed accidentally in routine diagnostic tests.
Among the several hepatitis forms, Hepatitis C is considered to be the most dangerous. Hepatitis C virus spreads through contaminated blood which usually happens through contaminated needles in drug abusers.
Hepatitis C infection can be acute or chronic:
Acute hepatitis C: In acute HCV infection, illness occurs within six months after the first exposure to the virus. Usually this illness is short in duration, but can also continue to become a chronic infection.
Chronic hepatitis C: Chronic infection may or may not be a result of acute infection. In chronic cases the HCV remains in the patient’s body for life and causes long term illness. Chronic infection causes severe liver problems like liver cirrhosis or lead to liver cancer.
Hepatitis C virus is the cause of hepatitis C. HCV can spread through infected person's blood or other body fluids.
HCV can spread by the following ways:
- Sharing needles with the infected person
- Having sex with several partners or having rough sex
- From mother to the child during birth
HCV does not spread by sharing food and water or by casual contact with the infected person.
Symptoms do not appear for decades in chronic cases. Many people can have symptoms which may be mild to severe. These include:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain
- Joint pains
- Dark colored urine
- Clay colored bowel movements
Diagnosis of hepatitis C infection can be done by blood test and liver biopsy.
Blood tests: Blood tests help to evaluate the following:
- Presence of hepatitis C virus
- Quantity of HCV in the person’s blood
- The genetic structure of the virus. This helps in choosing the specific treatment.
Liver biopsy: Removing a sample of liver tissue for laboratory testing is called liver biopsy. Liver biopsy helps to determine the severity of the infection which helps to choose the right treatment option.
According to CDC the following conditions are known to increase the risk of HCV infection:
- f blood is received from and infected donor
- If injected drugs using shared needles
- If received a blood transfusion or had an organ transplantation prior to July 1992
- If received a drug treatment for clotting problems before 1987
- If having HIV infection
- If person has been undergoing dialysis for a long duration
- If born to HCV infected mother
Chronic HCV infection over many years can lead to severe complications such as:
- Liver cirrhosis: Scarring of the liver or liver cirrhosis occurs after 20 to 30 years of HCV infection making the liver functioning improper.
- Liver failure: Hepatitis C infection damages the liver severely and makes the liver unable to function.
- Liver cancer:Cancer of the liver may occur in some hepatitis C patients.
Treatment is not always necessary if hepatitis C is diagnosed. These patients require blood tests to be done on a regular basis to monitor the condition of the liver.
Antiviral medications are required to act against HCV in the body. These drugs are given alone or in a combination. Antiviral drugs used in treating hepatitis C infection include Ribavirin, Simeprevir, Sofosbuvir and Ledipasvir. Along with these drugs Interferon may also be given. Sofosbuvir and Ledipavir are newer antiviral drugs with side effects such as headache and fatigue.
These drugs have side effects such as fatigue, fever, headache, flu like symptoms or depression. The patients who are given these medications should be monitored by the physician and stop the medications if these side effects become severe.
Liver transplantation may be done in patients whose liver has been damaged severely. In liver transplantation, the old liver is removed and a healthy liver is transplanted. The healthy liver may be from a deceased donor or may be a part of the liver of a living donor.
Liver transplantation does not completely cure hepatitis C. HCV infection can recur in the healthy liver which has been transplanted, so the antiviral medications are continued even after a liver transplant has been done.
Physician may recommend the patient to take vaccination against other types of hepatitis such as hepatitis A and B as they can further damage the liver and also complicate the treatment for HCV infection.
There is no vaccine available to prevent the HCV infection.Further the risk of getting infected by HCV can be prevented by following some tips below:
- Do not share personal items such as toothbrush or razors.
- Do not share needles or syringes with others.
- Checkfor the presence of HCV in blood before transfusion.
- Avoid exposure to blood or blood products.
- Practice safe sex.
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