Hepatitis C is yet another infection that affects the liver. It is estimated that hepatitis C (HCV) affects 2.5% of healthy adults in Asia. Though this number is less when compared to other countries, the risk factor is high in Asia. World Hepatitis Day falls on 28 Jul every year. Apart from hepatitis A and hepatitis B, let’s look into another of type of viral infection that affects the liver.
What is hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus. This infection can result in serious liver damage. Just like all other types of hepatitis, this infection also spreads through close contact with an infected person. In most cases, the person may not show any symptoms and may not be aware that such a condition exists.
What are the main causes of hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is caused when the body fluid or blood of an infected person enters your body. This can be through any of the following ways.
- Having unprotected sex with an infected person
- Sharing of needles
- Sharing of razors and toothbrushes with an infected person.
- Getting a tattoo done with unsterilised equipment
Besides, if a pregnant mother is infected, there is a great chance of her passing the infection to the unborn child.
What are the different stages of hepatitis C?
This infection usually develops in three stages:
Stage 1 – Incubation period
The incubation period is the time when you get exposed to the virus till the disease starts. This can last between 14 to 80 days.
Stage 2 – Acute phase
This is the mild initial stage of the infection which can last for up to six months. In the acute phase, most people do not experience any symptoms, and if there are any, the symptoms are vague and non-specific. Only up to 30% of people manage to clear the virus via the antibodies produced on their own. Full recovery is rare, and progression to the chronic phase is common.
Stage 3 – Chronic phase
If the virus does not get cleared in the acute phase, it moves to the chronic phase. Here the infection goes past six months and is called chronic hepatitis C infection. When untreated, this stage can cause serious liver problems like liver cancer or cirrhosis.
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C?
The main symptoms are:
- Yellowing of the white part of the eyes as well as skin.
- Fever, joint pain and fatigue
- Nausea and stomach pain
- Loss of appetite
- Dark coloured urine and clay-coloured stools
If you experience any of the above symptoms, you should consult a doctor without delay. After examining you thoroughly, the doctor can make out whether you are in acute or chronic stage. Based on that, the doctor will start the treatment plan.
What are the different treatment options available?
Since hepatitis C is caused by a viral infection, using antiviral medicines is the most effective way to treat the condition. The type of medicine and duration of the treatment chosen depends on the genotype of the virus, the extent of liver damage and other medical conditions.
If the infection has reached a chronic stage, liver transplantation is the only option available. In this process a damaged liver is transplanted with a healthy one.
Besides the above treatment options, your doctor will also ask you to take vaccination for hepatitis A and B. Though these are different types of viruses, it helps prevent contracting these conditions and thereby reducing complications.
Lead a healthy lifestyle
The first step towards managing hepatitis C is to lead a healthy lifestyle. Eat a well-balanced diet consisting of nutritious food. If you develop any other conditions like HIV, hepatitis A or B, it can weaken your immune system. Thus, you should get yourself vaccinated against hepatitis A or B.
Get quality rest
When you are down with hepatitis C you will experience fatigue but find it difficult to get proper sleep. Maintaining the right environment inside the bedroom helps you to get a good rest. Keep all electronic gadgets away from the bedroom and use the room only for sleep. Maintain the temperature of the room at a comfortable level and use soft fabric for bedding. Avoid taking alcohol or caffeine before going to bed. All this will help you to get a good night’s sleep.
Maintain a positive frame of mind
Living with a chronic condition like hepatitis C can affect you mentally. Try to maintain a positive frame of mind through relaxation. Exercising regularly also helps in boosting positivity. Being in the company of friends and family is also helpful.
Hepatitis C virus may be cleared by our own immune system, but more commonly, it develops into a chronic condition. Hepatitis C can usually be treated successfully antiviral medications, however it can also progress to severe liver complications if left untreated. If you’re at higher risk of getting infected than the general population, it is advisable to get screened regularly.
The earlier the detection, the earlier you can get treated, and the better your chances are with avoiding complications and liver damage.