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Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection that attacks the liver. Most people infected with the hepatitis C virus have no symptoms. In fact, most don't know they have the infection until liver damage shows up, sometimes decades later, or through detection during a routine medical exam.

Symptoms

Hepatitis C usually produces no signs or symptoms during its earliest stages. When signs and symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • Fatigue or muscle and joint pains
  • Fever
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)

Causes

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is spread when you come in contact with contaminated blood – often through shared use of needles. Your risk of hepatitis C is increased if you:

  • Are a health care worker who has been exposed to infected blood
  • Have ever injected illicit drugs
  • Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using unsterile equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992

Diagnosis

Testing for hepatitis C in people who have a high risk of the virus may help doctors recommend options to slow liver damage. This is recommended because hepatitis C often begins damaging the liver before it causes symptoms. Blood tests may help diagnose the virus as well as evaluate the disease and determine treatment options.

Treatment

Treatment for hepatitis C isn't always necessary. Your provider may recommend follow-up tests to monitor your liver for damage. When treatment is recommended, it may include antiviral medications, vaccinations to protect against other forms of hepatitis. If your liver has been severely damaged, transplant may also be an option. Northeast Digestive Health Center's comprehensive Hepatitis C Clinic offers a wide range of treatment and monitoring options.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is hepatitis?

The word hepatitis means “inflammation of the liver.” Hepatitis may develop after exposure to the hepatitis C virus (HCV), or after exposure to the viruses that cause hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

How common is hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is the most common type of chronic viral infection occurring in blood in the United States. Anywhere from 2.7 million to 3.9 million people in the US have hepatitis C. Many people who have hepatitis C do not know they have the condition.

Who gets hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C occurs among people of all ages. Some people have a higher risk for developing hepatitis C, including:

  • People who have injected drugs
  • Those who had received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
  • People who have hemophilia and who received clotting factor products prior to 1987
  • Individuals on kidney dialysis
  • Those with HIV infection
  • Children born to HCV positive mothers
  • Healthcare workers who have been in contact with blood or infected needles
  • People who have tattoos or piercings

How does hepatitis C progress?

In its early stages, hepatitis C causes no symptoms or causes very mild symptoms – many people are unaware that they have the disease. If these symptoms develop in the initial stages, they usually go away within a few weeks. About 15 to 25 percent of people infected with HCV will fight off the disease and suffer no long-term effects.

Between 75 and 85 percent of people infected with HCV will develop a chronic hepatitis C infection. Still, many will not experience symptoms of the disease, even years after infection. The infection will remain with them until they undergo treatment.

Ten to 20 percent of those with chronic infections will experience gradual liver damage over the years and eventually develop cirrhosis. This can take 20 years or longer after the initial infection.

Can hepatitis C be treated?

Yes! If you have hepatitis C, your doctor can prescribe one of several medications to treat both acute and chronic hepatitis C. Several new treatments are now available; many of these treatments have few side effects than previous treatment options.

Does hepatitis C ever go away on its own?

Hepatitis C goes away on its own without treatment in about 15 to 25 percent of people infected with the hepatitis C virus.

Can I drink alcohol if I have hepatitis C?

Alcohol can contribute to worsening liver disease by causing inflammation and scarring. Hepatitis C can make your liver more sensitive to these effects of alcohol. Consult with your doctor to learn if any amount of alcohol is safe for you to drink.

Sources

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Contact Info

Northeast Digestive Health Center
1070 Vinehaven Drive NE
Concord, North Carolina 28025
Phone: (704)783-1840
Fax: (704)783-1850
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