HEALTHMedical

Hepatitis C

Digestive Health

by Dr Saravana.K

Hepatitis simply means “inflammation of the liver” (the suffix “itis” means inflammation and “hepa” means liver). Hepatitis C (HCV) is a specific type of hepatitis that is caused by a virus. There are many other hepatitis viruses such hepatitis A, B, D, E, etc. The only thing they have in common is that they all affect the liver. Most people infected with the HCV have no symptoms until liver damage shows up decades later, during routine medical tests.

It is spread when you come in contact with blood contaminated by the virus. Three per cent of the world’s population is chronically infected with HCV. In Malaysia the prevalence of HCV is about 1.5 per cent.

SYMPTOMS

  • HCV infection usually produces no signs or symptoms during its earliest stages
  • Fatigue, fever, muscle and joint pains
  • Nausea or poor appetite
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • Leg swelling, abdominal distension
  • Passing foul smelling blackish stool
  • Vomiting blood

How do I become infected with HCV?

  • Health care and emergency workers who have been exposed to infected blood or accidental needle stick injury
  • Have ever injected illicit drugs
  • People with HIV infection
  • Received a piercing or tattoo in an unclean environment using non sterile equipment
  • Received a blood transfusion, clotting factor concentrates or organ transplant before 1994
  • Received hemodialysis treatments for a long period of time
  • Was born to a mother with a HCV infection
  • Sexual partners of anyone diagnosed with HCV infection
  • People with hemophilia.

People with the above risks may want to talk to their doctors about screening for hepatitis C infection, to detect it early and prevent complications. HCV infection at the initial stages produces no symptoms and if detected early treatment could be administered to prevent complications such as:

  • Scarring of the liver tissue (cirrhosis). After 20 to 30 years of HCV, cirrhosis may occur. Scarring in your liver makes it difficult for your liver to function.
  • Liver failure. A liver that is severely damaged by HCV may be unable to function adequately.
  • Liver cancer.

HCV can be diagnosed by doing simple blood tests that include:

  • HCV antibody test: To determine whether you have the HCV virus.
  • Measure the quantity of the HCV virus in your blood (viral load) and the genetic makeup of the virus (genotyping), to determine your treatment options.

TREATMENT

Antiviral medications

HCV infection is treated with antiviral medications intended to clear the virus from your body. Your doctor will decide whether you are eligible for treatment and may recommend a combination of medications taken over several weeks. Throughout treatment your doctor will monitor your response to medications and for side effects.

Liver transplant

If your liver has been severely damaged; a liver transplant may be an option.

PREVENTION

Protect yourself from HCV infection by taking the following precautions: stop using illicit drugs, be cautious about body piercing and tattooing and practice safer sex.

Tips To Maintain a Healthy Liver

  • Vaccinations against the hepatitis A and B viruses. These viruses can also cause liver damage and complicate treatment of hepatitis C.
  • Stop drinking alcohol.
  • Avoid medications that may cause liver damage.

For more information call Saravana.K Gastroenterologist and Liver Specialist Clinic at Hospital Fatimah (05-5487181) or email gastrosara@gmail.com.

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