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Hepatitis C

Functions of the liver

The liver is the main warehouse for nutrients absorbed from the small intestine. Its job is to store, package and change these nutrients according to the needs of the body and then supply them to the blood stream for delivery to the various organs. The liver is a very large organ located in the upper right quadrant of the abdomen protected by the rib cage. It also produces bile that is stored in the gallbladder. Bile is necessary for the digestion and absorption of fat in the diet.

Definition of hepatitis

The term "hepato" refers to the liver and "itis" refers to "inflammation of". The term, hepatitis, therefore, means inflammation of the liver. The terms acute and chronic hepatitis are defined mainly by the duration of the inflammation. Acute hepatitis is used to describe any form of liver inflammation of less than six (6) months duration, whereas chronic refers to a process lasting longer than this.

Definition of Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. The most common means of transmission now is from contaminated blood exchanged by sharing dirty needles during illegal drug use or questionable tattoo application practices, and sometimes through sexual intercourse. In some cases of hepatitis B and C, the source of infection cannot be determined. Most individuals who acquire hepatitis C will develop chronic hepatitis. Within 20 years or more, 25 percent (25%) of patients develop cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Some patients also develop liver failure or liver cancer.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Most people with both acute and chronic hepatitis C have no symptoms from the disease. This is why hepatitis C may persist for years or even decades before it is discovered. When symptoms do occur, they may include fatigue, joint pain, itchy skin, muscle soreness, stomach pain and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes).  History and physical examination and blood tests can usually diagnose asymptomatic forms of hepatitis. Often  a liver biopsy may be required.

Chronic Hepatitis C

HCV Carriers

With proper management, many hepatitis C patients can lead full and active lives. If you are infected with hepatitis C, you should: Be under the care of a doctor who specializes in the liver. Stay on any prescribed medications and keep all your medical appointments.
Get the hepatitis A and B vaccinations to protect you from another liver infection. Maintain a healthy lifestyle by eating nutritious meals, getting exercise, resting when you feel tired and avoiding alcohol and illegal drugs. Use only drugs and supplements that your doctor has approved. Consider joining a hepatitis C support group, either in your community or online. Avoid spreading your blood to others. Don’t share razors, toothbrushes or nail clippers.

Sex, pregnancy and breast feeding

Anyone can get hepatitis C, but some people are at higher risk, including people who were born to a mother with hepatitis C. People who have had more than one sex partner in the last 6 months or have a history of sexually transmitted disease. People who had a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992 people with hemophilia who received blood products before 1987. People who have used illegal injection drugs.

Treatment

Medications

The treatment now available for hepatitis C is a medication called Interferon. There are different types of interferons that the body makes in response to different infections. The type of interferon used to treat hepatitis C is given by subcutaneous (beneath the skin) injection. Not all persons are candidates for treatment and not all persons will respond to treatment. Common side effects of this treatment include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, nausea and mood changes.

Ribavirin is another medication used to treat hepatitis C in combination with interferon. It may cause hemolytic anemia that result from a breakdown of red blood cells. A patient's blood count is monitored during treatment. Serious anemias occur in a small percent of cases.

Liver Transplant

Patients are examined by a team of specialists to determine if a liver transplant is needed and likely to succeed. If so they are placed on a national transplant waiting list. This waiting list is prioritized by the sickest people and those who meet transplant criteria

Prevention

You can get hepatitis C if your blood comes into contact with blood from someone who already has the virus. The most common cause of transmission is the sharing of needles and other equipment used to inject illegal drugs. Less common causes of transmission include:
Sharing a razor, toothbrush or nail clipper with an infected person Accidental exposure to infected blood among health care or public safety workers Exposure to unclean tattooing or body-piercing instruments Unprotected anal sex or exposure to multiple sex partners

Summary

Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver that is caused by the hepatitis C virus, or HCV. Chronic hepatitis C is a serious condition that damages the liver and can lead to potentially fatal liver diseases such as cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. One of the most common reasons for liver transplants is damage caused by hepatitis C infection. More than four million Americans have been dx with Hepatitis C. is important to discuss the pros and cons of hepatitis C treatment thoroughly with your doctor before you begin treatment. You should also tell your doctor about any side effects you experience during treatment.

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