Chronic hepatitis C

Overview – Chronic hepatitis C is a long-term infection with the hepatitis C virus. Hepatitis C infection spreads through contaminated blood and causes inflammation and damage to the liver.

The modes of transmission are accidental needlestick injuries in health care workers, sharing needles, infant born to an infected mother, blood transfusion or organ transplant recipients. Other infrequent modes of transmission are sex with an HCV-infected person, unregulated tattooing, sharing personal items such as razors or toothbrushes.

Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Sleep disturbances
  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Joint pain
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Jaundice (yellow discoloration of skin and eyes)
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Confusion, drowsiness, slurred speech
  • Bleeding and bruising easily

Complications

  • Scarring of the liver tissue leading to cirrhosis of the liver.
  • There is an increased risk of liver cancer.
  • The vital functions of the liver are impaired leading to liver failure.

Diagnosis

  • Screening of hepatitis C infection with a blood test is done in people who are at high risk of exposure to HCV. The people at high risk are –
  • History of injected or inhaled illicit drug use
  • Babies born to mothers who are infected with hepatitis C virus
  • Health care workers who have been exposed to blood or accidental needle sticks
  • People who have received blood transfusions or organ transplants
  • People with HIV infection
  • People who have undergone long-term hemodialysis treatments
  • Additional blood tests that will be done to measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in your blood, identify the genotype of the virus.
  • Other tests that are done to assess liver damage are magnetic resonance elastography, transient elastography, liver biopsy, a series of blood tests to find the extent of fibrosis of the liver.

Lifestyle management

  • Follow a healthy diet and exercise program as recommended by your doctor.
  • Alcohol speeds the progression of liver disease. Stop drinking alcohol.
  • Take precautionary measures to prevent spreading the infection to others. Do not share razors, toothbrushes. keep the wounds covered, if you have any. Tell your partner about the infection and always use barrier methods of contraception. Tell the healthcare workers that you have hepatitis C virus infection. Do not donate blood, organs, or semen.
  • Your doctor will recommend that you avoid certain medications including over the counter, herbal preparations, and dietary supplements.
  • Hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine are recommended to people who have hepatitis C virus infection. Talk to your doctor about these vaccinations.

Medical management

  • Antiviral medications to clear the virus from your body.
  • A liver transplant is an option if there are serious complications because of hepatitis C infection.

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