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Hepatitis C is an infectious disease affecting the liver, insidious in that its symptoms don’t often show themselves until the organ has sustained major damage. Liver scarring and the more advanced scarring known as cirrhosis which this infection causes, often has taken place before the disease is discovered. For years, this form of hepatitis was known only as non-A, non-B hepatitis. It was not formally identified until 1989.

The hepatitis C infection is caused by blood-to-blood contact. In about fifteen per cent of the exposed population, the infection will pass on its own. For the other eighty-five per cent, the infection remains and sometimes will cause further complications such as liver cancer and advanced cirrhosis.

Symptoms

Once a patient is symptomatic, hepatitis C often presents itself with flu-type symptoms such as nausea and vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain, joint pain and lack of appetite. There may be itching and jaundice. The skin may appear yellow, or jaundiced.

Other indications of more advanced hepatitis can be swelling in the abdomen, and a tendency to bruise and bleed more readily. Some individuals are first diagnosed with hepatitis C when they have had excessive nosebleeds. Sometimes a person may seem slower mentally than they have been. This is due to toxins not being processed by the liver as they normally are. Veins may have become enlarged in the esophagus and stomach regions.

Diagnosis

Blood tests will be done to determine the presence of the hepatitis C virus in the bloodstream. There are several genotypes of the virus, and it is important this type is determined in order to know which treatment the virus will be most responsive to.

A magnetic resonance elastography will often be done in place of the more invasive biopsy. This test uses sound waves to produce images of the liver, and can show liver damage, color, and consistency. Where the elastography is not practical, needle biopsies will be done. Either of these tests can confirm diagnosis and monitor liver damage.

Treatment

Treatment for Hepatitis C is individualized for each patient depending on how far the disease has advanced and how much damage to the liver has occurred.

Treatment for most hepatitis C patients includes a weekly injection of a drug that combats the virus and oral doses of broad-spectrum antivirals. If the infection is genotype I, this treatment may completely clear it. There are chemical agents that can be used to relieve the depression and boost the lowered blood counts which are side effects of the antiviral medications.

In most hepatitis cases, the diet will be revised to avoid fat, alcohol, and other substances that could further damage the liver.

Patients with genotype II or higher whose liver disease is more advanced may require further care such as radiation, surgery, or liver transplant. Even following transplantation, hepatitis C will often recur in these advanced cases.

The best chance for hepatitis C survival is to prevent it in the first place. Hepatitis C can be spread through tattooing, sharing drug products and personal items, rarely through sexual contact (in cases of a bleeding sore) and through invasive procedures such as injections. In the United States, medical blood transfer or blood product procedures done prior to 1992 also presented the possibility of hepatitis C transmission.

Anyone who feels they may have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus should seek medical attention from the best clinic in order to be tested. If the virus is found in an early stage, chances of cure are much higher.