Hepatitis C: Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Hepatitis C is a disease that causes inflammation and infection of the liver. This condition develops after a person is infected by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The hepatitis C virus can also be acute or chronic. Check out the full explanation of the causes, symptoms of hepatitis C, and treatment for hepatitis C below.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that can infect the liver. If left untreated, the hepatitis C virus can cause serious and potentially life-threatening liver damage.

The disease is spread through blood-to-blood contact and the use of injected drugs. There are immunizations against hepatitis A and B, but not for hepatitis C. The main step that must be taken to prevent infection is to avoid exposure to the hepatitis C. virus

In addition, many people do not realize that their bodies have been infected with HCV, this is because there are no symptoms of hepatitis C.

Causes of Hepatitis C

As the previous explanation, the hepatitis C virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The virus is inactive until it enters the host cell and then multiplies itself. Infection can occur if blood from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected.

The biggest risk factor for getting infected with HCV is sharing needles or equipment used to inject drugs. HCV is not transmitted through casual contact such as sharing food, kissing, or mosquito bites.

Even so, a speck of blood so small that cannot be seen with the naked eye can carry hundreds of particles of the hepatitis C virus. If the virus has entered the body, even if only one chance, exposure has occurred and infection may occur.

Risk Factors that Increase Someone Affected by Hepatitis C

  • Health workers exposed to the blood of an infected person.
  • Have ever injected illegal drugs.
  • Suffer from HIV.
  • Receive piercings or tattoos in places where the equipment is not sterile.
  • Receive hemodialysis treatment for a long period of time.
  • Born by a woman with hepatitis C.
  • Never went to prison.
  • Freezing factor concentrates received before 1987.
  • Received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992.
  • Born between 1945 and 1965, the age group with the highest incidence of hepatitis C infection.

Stages of Hepatitis C

The hepatitis C virus affects people in various ways and has several stages, such as:

  • Incubation Period

This is the time between first exposure to the beginning of the disease. The incubation period can last between 14 to 80 days, but the average is 45 days.

  • Acute Hepatitis C

This is a short-term disease that lasts for the first 6 months after the virus enters the body. After that, the virus can disappear from the body without special treatment.

  • Chronic Hepatitis C

If your body does not clear the virus itself after 6 months, it can become a long-term infection. This condition can cause serious health problems such as liver cancer or cirrhosis.

  • Cirrhosis

This disease causes inflammation and over time will replace healthy liver cells with scar tissue. This condition usually takes about 20 to 30 years for this to happen, but can be faster if you drink alcohol or have HIV.

  • Heart cancer

Cirrhosis makes the possibility of liver cancer greater. The doctor will make sure you get a routine check because there are usually no symptoms of hepatitis C in the early stages.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

Long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus is known as chronic hepatitis. Chronic hepatitis C is usually a ‘silent’ infection for years, until the virus damages the liver to cause signs and symptoms of liver disease.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis C include:

  • Bleeding easily.
  • Easy bruising.
  • Fatigue.
  • Bad appetite.
  • Yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
  • Dark urine.
  • Itchy skin.
  • Fluid buildup in the stomach (ascites).
  • Swelling in the legs.
  • Weight loss.
  • Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy).
  • The appearance of spider angiomas.

Every chronic hepatitis C infection begins with an acute phase. Acute hepatitis C is usually not diagnosed because it rarely causes symptoms. When signs and symptoms of hepatitis C appear, they may include jaundice, along with fatigue, nausea, fever and muscle aches. Symptoms of acute hepatitis C appear one to three months after exposure to the virus and last two weeks to three months.

Acute hepatitis C infection does not always become chronic. Some people clear HCV from their bodies after the acute phase, a result known as spontaneous viral cleansing. In studies of people diagnosed with acute HCV, the rate of spontaneous virus clearance varies from 15% to 25%. Acute hepatitis C also responds well to antiviral therapy.

Diagnosis of Hepatitis C

If you feel you have hepatitis C, taking the test will make your mind calm. If the test results are positive, it is possible to start treatment earlier.

Hepatitis C is usually diagnosed using 2 blood tests: an antibody test and a PCR test.

  • Antibody Test

An antibody blood test determines whether you have ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus by testing the presence of antibodies to the virus. Antibodies are produced by the immune system to fight germs.

This test will not show a positive reaction for several months after infection because the body needs time to make these antibodies.

If this test is negative, but you have symptoms or may have been exposed to hepatitis C, you may be advised to do the test again.

Positive tests show that you have been infected at some stage. However, this condition does not always indicate the body is infected, because you might have cleared the virus from the body.

The only way to find out if you are currently infected is to do a second blood test called a PCR test.

  • PCR test

The PCR blood test checks whether the virus still exists by detecting whether it reproduces in the body. If the test results are positive, it means your body is not fighting the virus and the infection has progressed to a chronic stage.

  • Other Tests

If you have active hepatitis C infection, you will be advised further tests to check whether the liver has been damaged.

Tests that can be done such as:

  • Blood test. This method measures certain enzymes and proteins in the bloodstream that indicate whether the liver is damaged or inflamed.
  • Ultrasound scan. Sound waves are used to test how rigid the heart is, stiffness indicates that the heart is damaged.

Hepatitis C treatment

If the diagnosis shows the results of acute hepatitis, treatment may not need to start immediately. Hepatitis C is often successfully treated by taking medication for several weeks.

If the infection continues for several months or is known as chronic hepatitis, treatment will usually be recommended.

The following are hepatitis C treatments that can be performed, including:

  • Antiviral Medication

Hepatitis C infection is treated with antiviral drugs intended to eliminate the virus from the body. The goal of treatment is that no hepatitis C virus is detected in the body at least 12 weeks after you complete treatment.

The choice of drug and the duration of treatment depend on the hepatitis C genotype, liver damage, medical conditions and previous treatment. Therefore, discuss treatment options with a specialist.

  • Liver Transplantation

If you have experienced serious complications from chronic hepatitis C infection, a liver transplant can be an option. During a liver transplant, the surgeon removes the damaged liver and replaces it with a healthy heart.

Most transplanted livers come from deceased donors, although a small number comes from living donors who donate a portion of their livers.

In some cases, liver transplantation alone does not cure hepatitis C. This infection is likely to return, requiring treatment with antiviral drugs to prevent damage to the transplanted liver.

Several studies have shown that antiviral drug regimens act effectively to cure post-transplant hepatitis C. At the same time, antiviral treatment can be achieved in selected patients right before a liver transplant.

  • Vaccination

Until now there was no hepatitis C. vaccine. However, there are many other ways to prevent hepatitis C.

Complications of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C infection that continues for years can cause significant complications, such as:

  • Scar tissue in the liver (cirrhosis). After decades of hepatitis C infection, cirrhosis can occur. Scarring in the liver makes the liver function decreases.
  • Heart cancer. A small number of people with hepatitis C infection can develop liver cancer.
  • Heart failure. Advanced cirrhosis can cause the liver to stop functioning.

Prevention of Hepatitis C

Because hepatitis C can be transmitted through blood, the main way to prevent the spread of HCV is by not sharing needles and avoiding all contact with other people’s blood.

Important to know for people with HCV infection is to maintain optimal health, including:

  • Quit smoking.
  • Maintain ideal body weight
  • Manage health problems…
  • Do not drink alcohol.

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