The hepatitis C virus causes inflammation of the liver and can compromise key functions such as eliminating toxins from the body. Left untreated, the virus can result in fatal liver disease. As many as 2.7 million people in the United States don’t realize they have a chronic infection from hepatitis C.
Getting the Word Out
On July 28, people around the world will learn more about viral hepatitis and the potential methods for quelling the disease on World Hepatitis Day. Sponsored by the World Hepatitis Alliance and endorsed by the World Health Organization>World Health Organization, the day aims to bring together governments, medical professionals, businesses and members of the public to increase understanding of the disease. The Centers for Disease control recommends that anyone born between 1945 and 1965 should get screened.
Viral hepatitis — encompassing both hepatitis B and C — causes some 1.34 million deaths each year along with more than three-quarters of the world’s liver cancer cases. Hepatitis C can be cured, but many people with the disease do not seek treatment because they don’t feel or look ill.
What do you need to know about hepatitis C to protect yourself and your loved ones?
Diagnosing Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C can be contracted through sharing needles, sexual activity, transfusions, needle stick injuries and other types of blood-to-blood contact. In 10 percent of cases, the cause is not known.
Symptoms of hepatitis C may include:
- Reduced appetite.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Stomach pain.
Many people with hepatitis C do not display any symptoms and don’t realize they have the virus.
Several lab tests can detect the presence of hepatitis C. The Viral Load (PCR) screening determines how much virus is present in the blood and also can confirm how patients respond to treatment and whether the virus is gone. The Hepatitis Genotype test can identify various strains of the virus, indicating how individual patients may respond to treatments.
A Hepatitis C Antibody test can confirm if an individual has been exposed to the virus. Some people are able to overcome the virus on their own and may test positive for antibodies but not for the virus itself.
Lab tests also can provide your doctor with important information about your liver health, and testing may be required to determine if there is any scarring to the liver. Fortunately, there are many noninvasive options available, including Fibroscan.
What Treatments Are Available?
A number of different treatments are available for hepatitis C and treatment now offer a greater than 90-percent chance of curing the infection. Most of the newer treatments come in the form of pills and last between two and six months, depending on the severity of the disease.
These treatments have minimal or no side effects. Patients who do experience side effects most often report fatigue and headaches, and lab abnormalities may occur as well.
Current treatment options represent a significant improvement over the previous choices, which often had more-serious side effects. In some cases, patients with chronic medical problems could not tolerate the older treatments.
Not everyone with hepatitis C requires treatment; your physician can work with you to determine the best course for managing your condition. If you undergo treatment for hepatitis C, it’s vital that you comply with your physician’s instructions, including getting any needed lab testing and coming in for follow-up visits.
Personalized Care Options for Hepatitis C
In the comprehensive Hepatitis C treatment clinic at Northeast Digestive Health Center, you can learn about the virus and the best treatment methods for your specific needs. To schedule an appointment, please contact us.