May is designated Hepatitis Awareness Month to help raise awareness about all forms of hepatitis, many of which are preventable or can be treated when detected early.
What is Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the liver. The liver carries out many vital tasks, including the distribution of nutrients within the bloodstream and filtering the blood of harmful waste and toxins. When the liver is inflamed, it is unable to do these tasks effectively. This can lead to complications, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Although hepatitis can be caused by a range of conditions including autoimmune disease and substance abuse, it is most often caused by viral hepatitis. There are five types of viral hepatitis (A-E), however, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C are the most common forms seen in the United States.
- Hepatitis A is transmitted person-to-person through fecal-oral route or consumption of contaminated food.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infectious blood, semen and other bodily fluids.
- Hepatitis C is transmitted through contact with infectious blood. Most commonly by either snorting illicit substances or by IV drug abuse. Approximately 5% is by a blood transufusion prior to 1990.
(Click here for more information on the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C.)
Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B are both vaccine-preventable, unlike Hepatitis C.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there are over 2.4 million Americans living with the Hepatitis C virus and over 44,000 new infections each year. It is also estimated that only 50% of those infected are aware of their condition.
When left untreated, Hepatitis C can lead to severe liver damage and liver cancer. Unfortunately, symptoms typically 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 symptoms may include:
- Loss of Appetite
- Joint Pain
- Dark-Colored Urine
The only way to know for sure if you have been infected is to get tested. This can be done with a simple blood test.
Who Should Get Tested for Hepatitis C?
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. The CDC recommends those born between those years be tested for Hepatitis C. Other individuals at risk include:
- Intravenous and intranasal drug users
- HIV-infected persons
- Recipients of blood transfusions or organ donations prior to June 1992
- Infants of Hepatitis C infected mothers
Hepatitis C Treatment
Though there is not yet a vaccine available for Hepatitis C, THERE IS A CURE! Treatment has also drastically improved over the years with newer medications causing fewer side effects and shorter treatment periods. New, direct-acting antiviral drugs (DAAs) have shown through research to be highly effective in curing patients with a 95% to 100% cure rate.
Treatments that can cure Hepatitis C are available at GastroIntestinal Specialists. The Liver Center at GastroIntestinal Specialists, A.M.C., is the No. 2 prescriber of hepatitis medication in the United States. Our comprehensive team of providers is dedicated to evaluating, treating and caring for patients with Hepatitis C, along with many other liver conditions. To schedule an appointment, call (318) 631-9121 or click here.
What Can Make It Worse?
- Smoking: smoking increases scarring of the liver by a factor of 4
- Alcohol: alcohol increases scarring of the liver 10 fold (even two beers a night!)
- Diabetes and obesity: diabetes increases scarring of the liver 10 fold
How Can I Know What Stage I Am In?
Gastrointestinal Specialists has a non-invasive test (that means no pain, no radiation, no biopsy) called a FibroScan (Google it!). It is pain free and can quickly identify the level of scarring on the liver.
Get Tested. Get Treated. The treatment is easy, and there are no significant side effects!