Viral hepatitis C
What is it?
Hepatitis (hep-uh-TI-tus) C is the name of a virus (germ) that causes an infection (in-FEK-shun) in your liver. Hepatitis C has been around for many years. It took a long time for scientists to find the germ that causes hepatitis C. For a long time, scientists thought there were only 2 kinds of hepatitis (viral and serum). Now they know there are many different germs that cause hepatitis. Each germ has a letter (like "C") in its name.
You can get hepatitis C from someone who has hepatitis C. It happens because an infected person's blood has gotten into your blood. Years ago, blood was not tested as well as it is today. People who received blood years ago may now have hepatitis from the blood. People with certain blood diseases who were given clotting factors before 1987 may have hepatitis C. People who were given blood or had operations to get body organs from other people before 1992 may also have hepatitis C. Other ways you may get hepatitis C are if:
- You use or have ever used intravenous (in-truh-V-nus) (IV) street drugs, even if it was only once, many years ago.
- You had long-term dialysis (di-AL-ih-sis). Dialysis is a way to clean your blood because your kidneys do not work properly.
- You are a health care worker whose blood came in contact with the blood of a person who had hepatitis C. This usually happens because you get stuck with a needle that has already been used on that person. You may also get an infection through mucus (MEW-kus) membranes, for example, when infected blood gets into your eye area. But you may come in skin contact with large amounts of infected blood and not get hepatitis C.
- Your mother had hepatitis C when you were born.
- You may get hepatitis C from having sex with an infected person.
Signs and symptoms: Most people (80%) who have hepatitis C have no symptoms. Because there are usually no symptoms, most people who have hepatitis C do not know they have it. You may find out you have hepatitis C when you go to donate blood. You may have an injury or event where you think you have come into contact with hepatitis C. Ask for 2 blood tests to find out for sure if you have hepatitis C. The first test should be done 9 to 12 weeks after the injury or event. The second test should be done 6 months after the injury or event. Symptoms of hepatitis C are:
- Fatigue : Feeling more tired than usual. This is the most common symptom of hepatitis C.
- Jaundice (JON-diss): Your skin and the whites of your eyes turn yellow. The first place you may notice this is under your tongue.
- Dark-colored urine : Your urine may be dark even if you drink a lot of water or other liquids.
- Abdominal (ab-DOM-ih-null) pain : Pain in the belly area.
- Loss of appetite: You do not feel like eating.
- Nausea: You feel like you are going to throw up.
- Stress may slow healing and cause illness later. Since it is hard to avoid stress, learn to control it. Learn new ways to relax like deep breathing, meditation (med-uh-TA-shun) or biofeedback.
- Hepatitis C is not spread by sneezing, coughing, hugging, food or water, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, or casual contact. Persons with hepatitis C may still go to work, school, play, or child care.
- Do not share personal items that may have blood on them (toothbrushes, razors).
- If you have one steady sex partner, discuss the risks with your partner. Testing for the hepatitis C virus should be done on your partner. Practice safe sex.
You will probably be treated at home. Resting and eating healthy food will help you get better. Blood tests will be done and you may have a liver biopsy to learn more about your liver. And you may need to be put in the hospital for more tests and treatment. People with hepatitis C may be treated with two medicines. The treatment has many side effects. Before offering treatment, caregivers will look for specific results of blood tests. Some people have a better chance of cure with treatment than other people. A liver transplant is sometimes needed.
- Do not drink alcohol, like beer, wine, or hard liquor. Eat a healthy balanced diet. Drink 6 to 8 (soda pop can size) glasses of water every day.
Herbs and Supplements:
Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.
Hepatitis C is a serious disease. The use of herbs and supplements should not take the place of good medical care.
- Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has been used to treat chronic viral hepatitis.
Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.
Talk to your caregiver if:
- You would like medicine to treat hepatitis C.
- Your symptoms have not gone away or improved by these self-help measures.
- You have a rash, itching or swelling of your abdomen (belly) or legs. This may be caused by the medicine you are taking.
- You are bruising easily.
- You are feeling confused or very sleepy.
- You have bad abdominal (belly) pain.
- You have BMs that are red or black and sticky.
- Your vomit (throw up) is red or looks like coffee grounds.
- You are too dizzy to stand up.
- You have questions about what you have read in this document.
You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care may be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.
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Last Updated: 1/4/2011