What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is one of five strains of hepatitis that can cause serious liver damage. Like hepatitis B, the condition may be chronic or acute, in those who have become infected. If you are lucky, your condition is acute, and the symptoms are mild, get better quickly, and you can make a full and speedy recovery.
Less fortunate are those who develop chronic hepatitis C. Patients suffering from this condition often develop complications, and never make it back to 100% health. Chronic hepatitis C can lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, and even complete liver failure. Luckily, the majority of the people who contract hepatitis C, even the chronic variety, can manage the illness and lead full and long lives.
Hepatitis C Symptoms for Men
Hepatitis C symptoms are similar in both men and women. In some cases there are no signs or symptoms of the disease at all. In others, it takes years for the disease to manifest itself. It can be difficult to diagnose, and tricky to treat, as the symptoms of hepatitis C are similar to so many other sicknesses.
Someone who is carrying the hepatitis C virus may feel tired, experience a loss of appetite, and want to sleep all the time. There may be changes in the color of their urine, often it becomes very dark. Joint and muscle pain is not unheard of, and there may be gastrointestinal discomfort, and abdominal pain.
Hepatitis C Symptoms for Women
The warning signs for women to be on the watch for are pretty much identical to those that might make a man nervous about a possible infection. Both sexes may see yellowing in the whites of their eyes and jaundice. Skin rashes and itchiness can show up on any part of the body. As with other strains of hepatitis, some or none of these symptoms may be present after a person is exposed to the virus. Each individual reacts slightly differently when they contract the disease.
How Do You Get Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C cannot be spread by non-sexual contact with an infected person. Even engaging in heterosexual or homosexual activities do not place you at a high risk of contracting the C strain of the hepatitis virus. This form of the disease is spread by direct contact with the blood of a carrier. It is still possible to pick up the virus during rough sex, or if the infected partner has an open wound.
The most common way that hepatitis C is transmitted is by sharing needles when injecting narcotics. Also, if a syringe or surgical instrument is improperly sanitized, the virus can be spread to an uninfected person during a medical procedure. This is rarely an issue in the developed world, but is a concern in poorer countries where proper sanitation and personal hygiene levels are less than ideal.
Getting a tattoo or piercing in an unprofessional setting by untrained artists will also put you at risk of contracting the illness. Infected blood on dirty instruments can easily transmit the hepatitis C virus. In rare cases, hepatitis C has been contracted by people who received blood transfusions prior to 1992 in the United States, or in parts of the developing world. Nowadays, comprehensive testing is mandatory in most countries when an individual donates blood.
Risks and Effects of Hepatitis C
The side effects of leaving a hepatitis C infection untreated can be severe. In many cases, men and women affected with the virus can go a decade or more before they begin to feel unwell. Often a blood test that shows elevated levels of liver enzymes will tip off a doctor that his or her patient may be a carrier. In other cases, people who donate blood will discover that their tests came back positive for hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C, especially in its chronic form, can lead to considerable liver damage. You are also at a greater risk of developing cancer or cirrhosis of the liver if you are already infected with the C strain of the hepatitis virus. Impaired liver function, and liver failure can result if appropriate measures are not taken to limit the damage that is being done to one your body's most critical organs.
Hepatitis C Treatment
The treatment and measures that a doctor will prescribe a patient with hepatitis C will vary. Depending on how advanced the disease is, and the damage that it has inflicted on a person's liver will determine what medicines and interventions may be required. In mild cases, it may be unnecessary to make major lifestyle changes. Sticking to a healthy low-fat diet, getting regular exercise and check-ups, and avoiding alcohol and drugs may be all that is required.
Hepatitis C Testing
If your doctor suspects that you may have contracted hepatitis C, he or she will perform a blood test. In some cases, a patient exhibits high levels of liver enzymes when their blood goes for a routine test. This tips off the doctor that something is not right, and so more specific blood testing may be requested.
If his suspicions are confirmed, and the C strain is present, a doctor will often have a liver biopsy performed. During the procedure, a needle is used to take a tiny tissue sample of the patient's liver. This is then tested to determine the extent of the damage that has been done to the liver by the hepatitis C virus. If there are signs of significantly impaired liver function, a physician may decide to prescribe antiviral drugs to control the spread of the disease.
Complications from Untreated Hepatitis C
Cirrhosis and liver cancer are the worst possible outcomes from a serious C strain infection. This can lead to liver failure, and death, if the patient is unable to find a suitable donor and get a liver transplant.
Can We Prevent Hepatitis C?
There is currently no vaccine that can offer 100% protection from hepatitis C. Practicing safe sex, and taking care to avoid exposure to unsterilized needles and other medical instruments will go a long way in avoiding infection from the C form of the hepatitis virus.