May is Hepatitis Awareness Month, making it a good time to go over our most frequently asked questions relating to Hepatitis C: one of the most common forms seen in the United States.
What Is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. When the liver is inflamed, it is unable to carry out its many vital tasks, including the distribution of nutrients within the bloodstream and filtering the blood of harmful waste and toxins. Hepatitis can be caused by a range of conditions (including autoimmune disease and substance abuse), but it is caused most often by viral hepatitis. There are five types of viral hepatitis (A-E). However, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the most common.
How Does Hepatitis C Spread?
Hepatitis C is usually transmitted through contact with infected blood. Transmission can occur during situations such as sharing needles or other drug-use equipment, contact with nonsterile equipment or needle-stick injuries in medical settings, and contact with nonsterile tattoo or piercing tools. There is also a small risk of infection from sharing grooming tools like toothbrushes or razors, transmission via sexual contact, and being born to a mother infected by Hepatitis C.
Are There Different Types of Hepatitis C Infection?
There are two types of infection: acute and chronic. Acute Hepatitis C is a short-term infection that occurs within six months of being exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. More than 50% of people who are infected with Hepatitis C will go on to develop a chronic infection, which can be lifelong and result in potentially serious liver damage and health problems.
How Common Is Hepatitis C?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are more than 2.4 million Americans living with the Hepatitis C virus. Approximately three-quarters of the people living with Hepatitis C are Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1965. Adults born between these years are five times more likely to be infected, and they account for 73% of all deaths associated with the disease.
What Are The Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
- Loss of Appetite
- Joint Pain
- Dark-Colored Urine
How Early Do Symptoms Begin?
Symptoms usually only present in the later stages, making early detection difficult. This also means that many patients only begin receiving treatment after liver problems have already developed. Hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage and liver cancer if left untreated.
Can You Spread Hepatitis C If You Don’t Have Symptoms?
Yes. Any person with Hepatitis C can spread it to others, even if they have no symptoms.
Who Should Get Tested For Hepatitis C?
People who are at high risk should be tested for the Hepatitis C virus. This includes:
- People born between 1945 and 1965
- Current or former intravenous and intranasal drug users
- HIV-infected persons
- Recipients of blood transfusions or organ donations prior to June 1992
- Healthcare workers exposed to needles
- People tattooed or pierced with nonsterile instruments
- Infants of Hepatitis C-infected mothers
What Is The Treatment For Hepatitis C?
Although some people with acute Hepatitis C infection may clear the virus without intervention, most patients will require close monitoring by their doctor and treatment if the disease becomes chronic. Treatment has improved significantly over the years, with newer medications causing fewer side effects and shorter treatment periods. New direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) have shown to be highly effective in curing patients with a 95% to 100% cure rate. These treatments are available at GastroIntestinal Specialists.
Can Lifestyle Changes Help?
Yes. Healthy lifestyle habits can help patients living with Hepatitis C. This includes maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular exercise and eating a healthy diet. Alcohol can cause liver damage, so it should be avoided. Patients should also check with their doctor before taking any medications, including over-the-counter medicines or supplements.
The Liver Center at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., is the No. 2 prescriber of hepatitis medication in the United States. Our team is highly experienced in evaluating, treating and caring for patients with Hepatitis C. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.