Hepatitis C

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It is also known as HCV and is mostly also transmitted through exposure to infective blood. This may happen through transfusions of HCV-contaminated blood and blood products, contaminated injections during medical procedures, and through injection drug use. Sexual transmission is also possible, but is much less common. There is no vaccine for HCV.

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Causes

Hepatitis C usually occurs if the blood from a person infected with HCV gets into the bloodstream of a healthy individual. The virus can spread in the following ways:


  • Having unprotected sex with a person affected with the same

  • Sharing needles that aren’t sterilized and have been used by an infected person

  • Through blood which wasn’t screened for the virus (though blood banks screen for this virus now, people who had a transfusion done before the year 1992 are at a risk for the same)

  • Being born to a mother who suffers from hepatitis C.

Symptoms

During the initial days after acquiring the virus one might not show any prominent symptoms. Only when the liver is damaged to a greater extent do symptoms start showing. Others might show vague symptoms in the beginning like fatigue and discoloration of skin that might disappear in a few days thus making the diagnosis difficult.

Some of the symptoms of hepatitis C can include:


  • An unexplained pain in the right side of the upper abdomen

  • Abdominal swelling due to excessive fluid retention

  • Pale coloured stools

  • Dark coloured urine

  • Unexplained fatigue

  • Fever of high grade

  • Itching

  • Jaundice (where the colour of the skin and the white areas of the eyes appear yellow in colour)

  • Sudden loss of appetite

  • Repeated episodes of nausea and vomiting

Diagnosis

If one presents the classical symptoms of the disease, blood tests are done to ascertain the extent of the disease and also know about the functional condition of the liver.


  • Blood test: It is done to check for the presence of the hepatitis antibodies and measure the viral content in the blood.

  • Liver function test: A liver function test is also done to ensure the functioning and the extent to which the disease has caused damage to the system. A blood test is first done to measure the amount of liver enzymes present in the blood stream. Due to the infection caused by the HCV virus the levels of the enzymes remain elevated in the blood. At times even a biopsy of the liver cells might be necessary to be sure about the extent of damage caused.

Treatment

The treatment modality usually involves:


  • Oral medications and injections: A combination of oral medications (antiviral drugs) and injections are used to fight the viruses inside the system and reduce its ill effects. For people receiving treatment it is possible to limit the effect of the virus and restrict its replication. Treatment may also involve the use of other drugs to counteract the drop in blood cell counts that occur due to the hepatitis C drug.

  • Liver transplantation: This is the only option left if the disease has eroded the liver to an extent of irreversible damage.


The side effects of the treatment

Side effects of treatment for hepatitis C include:

  • Flu-like symptoms

  • Exaggerated fatigue

  • Hair loss

  • Low blood counts

  • Trouble in thinking

  • Agitation

  • Depression

Prevention


  • Practise safe sex and use barrier contraceptives like condoms always.

  • Refrain from sharing personal items like razors, needles etc.

  • Beware while getting a tattoo or body piercing. The equipment being used may have someone else’s blood on it.

  • Do not donate blood if you are infected.


 

The content has been verified by Dr. Vijay D'Silva, DirectorMedical Affairs & Critical Care, Asian Heart Institute, Mumbai.

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