Hepatitis C 

 

Hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection is the most common chronic bloodborne infection in the United States; over 3 million Americans are chronically infected.   Hepatitis C spreads from person to person through contact with infected blood.  This can happen through sharing needles or if your mother had hepatitis C during childbirth.  It is also possible to get hepatitis C through sexual contact or by sharing razors or toothbrushes that have been in contact with infected blood.  Hepatitis C does not spread by sharing eating utensils or glasses, kissing, coughing, or sneezing.

Hepatitis C causes inflammation and swelling in your liver, which if left untreated can cause serious damage, such as scarring in your liver tissue, eventually cirrhosis, and it can often lead to liver cancer.  When you have cirrhosis, scar tissue replaces healthy liver tissue, which blocks the blood flow and makes it difficult for your liver to remove toxins and help digest your food.

Most people who have chronic hepatitis C do not experience any symptoms.  It can take up to 30 years to develop.  If you have chronic hepatitis C, the goal of treatment is to slow the damage to your liver and lower the levels of the virus in your blood.

Treatment Therapy for Hepatitis C

We offer Hepatitis C treatment in our office, which is a combination of protease inhibitors, interferon, and Ribavirin.  Chronic hepatitis C treatment continues to improve, but it still may not be right for you.  If you or your partner is pregnant or planning to start a family, these medicines are unsafe for unborn children.  This treatment can also have side effects, such as flu-like symptoms, fever, chills, headache tiredness, loss of appetite, joint pain, muscle aches, depression, and anemia.  If you have suffered from depression in the past, it is important to discuss this with the doctor prior to beginning treatment.  Sometimes the extent of liver damage cannot be accurately determined by lab tests, and a needle biopsy of the liver is necessary.   If you are over the age of 50 and are considering treatment for hepatitis C, a cardiac and ophthalmologic evaluation is required.  Treatment requires frequent office visits and blood tests to monitor the effectiveness of the treatment. 

In severe cases of chronic hepatitis C, if the liver is damaged beyond repair, a liver transplant is recommended. 

What You Can Do To Protect Your Liver

Small changes in your daily life can make a huge difference in your overall liver health.

Check your medicines
Some medicine can cause liver damage or make it worse.  Ask the doctor about any over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements that you take to make sure they aren’t harming your liver.

Watch your diet
Eating a balanced diet which includes whole grains, lean protein, low-fat dairy, fruits and vegetables will make it easier for your liver to do its job.  Limit foods high in fat, sugar, and  salt.   Being overweight can cause fat deposits in the liver and increase scarring.  A weight loss program should be considered in order to stay within 10% of your ideal body weight.

Give up alcohol
If you have liver disease, even a small amount of alcohol is harmful.  If you drink regularly, it can be difficult to give it up.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help if you need it.

Get immunized
A simple blood test will tell the doctor if there are any vaccinations you need, including vaccines for other types of hepatitis.  Protecting yourself against other illnesses can help you stay healthy.

Get support
A chronic illness like hepatitis C can make you feel depressed.   Think about joining a support group or seeing a counselor.  Our staff is there to help you every step of the way, providing support and encouragement. 

Don’t wait for your liver disease to progress.  Call us today to make an appointment. 

American Liver Foundation:  www.liverfoundation.org

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease:  www.niddk.nih.gov