Chronic Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a blood-borne infection that affects the liver. The disease is caused by a virus and is the most common blood-borne infection affecting Americans today with over 2.7 million infected patients in the United States. While it is possible to only experience Hepatitis C for a short period of time before recovering, it is much more common for patients to retain the disease for long periods of time. Cases of Hepatitis C that last longer than 6 months are considered chronic Hepatitis C.
In order to obtain the Hepatitis C virus you must physically come into contact with the blood of an infected patient. This may occur in a number of ways, including:
- Intravenous drug use
- Receiving tattoos or body piercings with non-sterilized equipment
- Occupational exposure to infected blood
- Sexual intercourse
- The exchange of personal care items such as a toothbrush or razor
- Birth from an infected mother
If you received an organ transplant or blood transfusion before 1992 you may have been exposed to the virus as well. All blood and organ donations since 1992 were screened for the Hepatitis C virus prior to being transplanted, but if you received a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to that date you should be screened for the presence of infection. Patients with HIV infection are at an increased risk for developing chronic Hepatitis C.
The majority of patients that are diagnosed with chronic Hepatitis C are surprised to learn they have the infection. Hepatitis C generally has no symptoms for several years. Often, patients learn of their infection after undergoing a routine blood test or are donating blood. There are several symptoms you may experience as a result of Hepatitis C, including:
- Muscle and joint pain
- Upset stomach
- Reduced appetite
Due to the nature of Hepatitis C and its effect on your liver, symptoms related to liver cirrhosis such as jaundice (the yellow tint to the skin and eyes), dark yellow urine and also the tendency to bleed and bruise easily could also be present as a result of or in conjunction with Hepatitis C.
The only way to know if you have Hepatitis C is to have a blood test done to check if the antibodies to the virus are present in your blood. If you are in any of the demographics that are at an increased risk for the virus you should especially be checked for the infection. In most cases, patients that test positively to carrying the virus have already had it for some time and will continue to carry it as our bodies have extreme difficulty eradicating the virus on its own. For this reason, patients that are found to have Hepatitis C are generally monitored overtime so that your physician can evaluate your liver function and ensure optimal health.
Overall, treatment for chronic Hepatitis C varies depending on your individual needs. Due to the side effects associated with treatment methods many patients are not able to undergo treatment for the virus. Many treatment options include several months of medication that do not eliminate the disease but instead suppress the growth. Some of the most prominent side effects of Hepatitis C treatment include vomiting, weight loss, depression, fatigue, headaches, anemia and also flu like symptoms.