Liver Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment Options Image

Hepatitis C — also known as HCV or hep C — is a virus that causes liver inflammation and damage. Hepatitis C causes include contact with infected blood and body fluids. Unrelated to other forms of hepatitis (such as hepatitis A and B), HCV has no vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) (2009), 3.2 million Americans have chronic hepatitis C. New cases of hepatitis C peaked in the 1980s, declined in the 1990s and have plateaued since 2003.

Hepatitis C: Acute and Chronic

Hepatitis C can manifest as both acute and chronic infections. The virus has an incubation period of six to 12 weeks, usually followed by four weeks of acute infection. Chronic infections are common and may last for years. Over 20 to 30 years, chronic hepatitis C can cause widespread liver damage, as reported by the Mayo Clinic (2009).

The National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (2006) reports that approximately 20 percent of chronic cases result in cirrhosis, while 1 to 5 percent result in liver cancer.

In these articles, you’ll learn common symptoms of hepatitis C, treatment options and hepatitis C causes.

Hepatitis C Causes

So, how do you get hepatitis C? Causes include:

  • Blood transfusion and organ transplants: Before 1992, people who had blood transfusions or organ transplants were at high risk of contracting HCV. Since then, more stringent screening criteria have made these far less common hepatitis C causes.
  • Childbirth: Although unlikely, an infected mother can pass hepatitis C to her child during childbirth.
  • Intravenous (IV) drug use: This is the most common of all hepatitis C causes. Drug users who share needles are significantly more likely to be exposed to hepatitis C contaminated blood than other groups.
  • Sexual contact: Although you may develop symptoms of hepatitis C through sexual contact, this is rare.
  • Tattooing and body piercing: Improperly cleaned tools or used needles can transmit contaminated blood, as can an artist who fails to use gloves or wash his hands.

Additional risk factors may increase your chances of developing hepatitis C symptoms, including existing liver disease and exposure to contaminated blood (via contaminated razors, toothbrushes or other personal items).

Hepatitis C Causes: Common Myths

As with many common diseases, a number of myths have developed about hepatitis C causes. Contrary to what you may have heard, you can’t develop symptoms of hepatitis C from:

  • Casual contact, like hugging
  • Contaminated food or water
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Sharing dishes, glasses or utensils.

Hepatitis C Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

During the initial phase, you may not experience any symptoms of hepatitis C. However, affected individuals may eventually experience fever, nausea or fatigue. Diagnosis is often made long after infection. If you think you’re experiencing symptoms of hepatitis C, you can confirm this via a blood test, while a liver biopsy can test for liver damage. If you’re in a high risk group, screening may help identify hepatitis C earlier than later.

Although no cure for hepatitis C exists, your doctor can recommend appropriate hepatitis C treatment. Antiviral drugs attack the virus, and if you have severe, permanent liver damage, hepatitis C treatment may include a liver transplant. Your doctor may also recommend vaccinations for other forms of hepatitis, as they tend to affect individuals with hepatitis C more severely.

Resources

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2009). Morbidity and mortality weekly report: Surveillance for acute viral hepatitis-United States, 2007. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/PDF/ss/ss5803.pdf.

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Hepatitis C. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097.

Medline Plus. (n.d.). Hepatitis C. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000284.htm.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2006). Chronic hepatitis C: Current disease management. Retrieved September 27, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/chronichepc/.

National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse. (2009). What I need to know about hepatitis C. Retrieved September 21, 2010, from http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/hepc_ez/.