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Getting diagnosed with hepatitis C can be very intimidating. Not only is your physical health facing complications, but anxiety and depression can be looming because of the unknowns that you are now facing. Talking to your doctor about the potential of liver cancer and other various complications is mentally taxing. Depression rates among those diagnosed with hepatitis C range from 20% to 50%, and anxiety can be fueled by the fact that 95% of people with this condition face some level of stigma. The good news is that hepatitis C doesn’t have to be permanent; the condition is curable in the overwhelming majority of cases.

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a condition when the associated virus causes inflammation of the liver. The condition can be acute or chronic, and the severity can range from a mild level of illness to a lifelong condition that carries a high risk of liver cancer and cirrhosis. Hepatitis C is a bloodborne virus; most infections happen due to blood exposure related to unsafe injections, sexual practices, substance use disorder involving injection drugs, unscreened transfusions of blood, and generally unsafe healthcare.

Symptoms of hepatitis C include abdominal pain, vomiting, nausea, and loss of appetite. You might run a fever and experience dark urine. Jaundice is possible when your eyes and skin start turning yellow. Early detection helps start treatment quickly enough to avoid the worst liver damage and improve your odds of long-term wellness. Acute cases of hepatitis C are frequently without symptoms and might not even result in life-threatening circumstances. Some infected individuals clear the virus without treatment, but most develop chronic status and require treatment to clear the infection from their bodies.

Hepatitis C diagnosis involves a screening test. If a medical diagnosis detects the presence of the virus, additional blood testing can ascertain other crucial pieces of data. These include the viral load, or how much of the virus is in the blood, and the genotype or genotypes of the viruses present. Blood tests can also be used for liver damage, but other options are available.

First, magnetic resonance elastography, or MRE, is a noninvasive imaging test using sound waves to map out stiff liver tissue. Second, transient elastography also measures liver stiffness with ultrasound vibrations. Third, a liver biopsy removes a small tissue sample from the liver for lab analysis. Research is always ongoing, so treatment options change fast. Talk about your treatment options with a specialist if you are diagnosed.

Liver transplantation might be necessary if a chronic infection damages your original organ too much. If you are matched with a compatible donor, a surgeon will replace your damaged organ with a healthier liver. Most donated livers come from deceased individuals, but a few come from living donors who decide to donate portions of their existing livers. Most of the time, liver transplants don’t cure hepatitis C, and the infection has a high probability of coming back. More treatment is necessary so the new liver doesn’t get damaged. Newer antivirals might cure hepatitis C before or after transplantation. Hepatitis C has no vaccine, but your medical care team might suggest hepatitis A and B vaccines; these two viruses can also result in liver damage and exacerbate the presence of hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C Genotypes

Hepatitis C has several different genotypes, and the differences in their genetic makeups define them. Scientists classify the genotypes by the numbers one through six, and each type has subtypes listed by letters, such as 1a or 1b. Different genotypes are more prevalent in their parts of the world, and each genotype might have specific treatments that it responds to better. For instance, genotype 1 is the dominant kind in the United States, accounting for over 70% of all American cases, with the rest being predominantly genotype 2 or 3. Genotype 6 is common across Southeast Asia, but genotype 4 dominates Africa.

Blood testing can both determine the presence and the kind of hepatitis C that you have, and you might find out that you have a mixed infection of multiple genotypes at the same time. Mixed infections are more likely if you inject substances using unsterilized or shared needles or if you’re on kidney dialysis. It might also happen if you receive blood products from a place that doesn’t test the blood supply for hepatitis C or if you get blood products such as whole blood, red cells, plasma, or platelets many years in the past when testing might not have been as commonplace or advanced.

What Is the Treatment for Hepatitis C?

Treatment for hepatitis C usually involves taking different medications for several weeks. The condition is called acute hepatitis when the infection gets diagnosed while still in the earliest stages, and treatment might not need to start immediately in these cases. Your doctor might have you do another round of blood testing after several months to determine if your body fights the virus off by itself. Should the infection continue for multiple months, then the condition is known as chronic hepatitis. Treatment is often recommended in these cases.

Chronic hepatitis is often diagnosed after someone has been infected for at least six months. Treatment might include lifestyle changes that minimize future damage and testing for liver damage. You might be prescribed tablets or medication to fight the virus, and the specific ones you are given will be based on the specific kind of hepatitis C that you have. The virus has six primary strains, and you can have an infection of more than one strain at a time.

Blood testing measures the effectiveness of your medication and determines whether you need to make changes, but this only happens to some individuals. Blood tests will confirm whether or not the virus has cleared following treatment, and an additional round of testing will confirm this three to six months later. You are considered cleared of the virus if both blood tests demonstrate no warning signs of the virus.

Treatment for hepatitis C involves direct-acting antiviral medications. DAA tablets are considered the most effective and safest options for dealing with this condition. They clear the infection in over 90% of people diagnosed with hepatitis C. Individuals need to take them for two to three months, and the treatment duration is based on the kind of hepatitis C they have. Several types of this condition are treated using multiple kinds of DAA tablets. Most users find DAA tablets easy to take with minimal side effects, but they can happen.

You might have trouble sleeping and feel a bit sick when you start, but these symptoms frequently settle down quickly. Your medical care team can make recommendations that help you manage discomfort. However, you need to inform them about any side effects as soon as possible so they can assist you. Potential side effects are different from one person to the next. A small group of people might have more serious side effects, including skin irritation, depression, anxiety, insomnia, hair loss, and anemia.

The success of your treatment in one diagnosis does not protect you against a future hepatitis C infection. There’s also no vaccine now, so beware; you can catch this condition again. If the initial round of treatment fails, your medical care team might repeat it, extend the treatment duration, or try a different combination of medications. You can also take many steps to keep the infection from spreading to other people while protecting your liver. Curbing alcohol and tobacco consumption, getting regular exercise, and following a proper diet are reasonable first steps. Don’t share personal hygiene items, such as razors or toothbrushes. Also, avoid sharing syringes or needles with anyone else, and practice safe sex. Inform all sexual partners who might need testing.

The newest hepatitis C medications have yet to be tested for use during pregnancy. Don’t get pregnant while taking these medications because the potential for harm to unborn babies isn’t known at this time. If you’re already pregnant, you might need to delay treatment until after delivery of the child. Let your doctor know if you intend to become pregnant in the coming weeks or months before starting treatment for hepatitis C. Some hepatitis C medications can be carried through seminal fluid, so men and women both need to use contraception during their treatment and for some months afterward.

Some individuals decide against hepatitis C treatment for several different reasons. Many feel fine and don’t show symptoms at the time whereas others know about the risk of future cirrhosis and are okay with the risk. Some decide that possible treatment benefits aren’t worth the potential risk of side effects. Your medical care team will provide plenty of information and advice, but all final decisions are yours. If you opt against treatment at any time, you can change your mind and get treated later.

Who Should Get Tested?

Testing for hepatitis C is something you should do at least once in your adult life, and it’s also a good idea if you meet certain conditions, including pregnancy, active or previous injectable substance use, HIV, hemodialysis, liver disease, or abnormal liver tests. If you received organ or blood donations before 1992 or clotting factor concentrates before 1987, have been exposed to the blood of a person with hepatitis C, or were born to a mother who had hepatitis C, then you should also get tested.

How Hepatitis C Isn’t Likely to Spread

Hepatitis C isn’t likely to spread through the national blood supply after widespread testing started in 1992. It’s also not spread through coughing, sneezing, food, water, hugging, kissing, sharing eating utensils, or holding hands. It shouldn’t spread in properly licensed tattooing facilities, but it can in unregulated or unofficial environments. Pregnant mothers with hepatitis C can pass it on to their babies, although the rate is low. Breastfeeding is unlikely to spread the virus unless a woman’s nipples are cracked or bleeding. No evidence suggests that the virus is transmitted through insects and mosquitoes.

Testing and Treatment Are Possible

At LifeLine Health, we can help clients with Hepatitis C, HIV, and STDs. Our sophisticated care services include prevention and treatment. We also help our clients access specialized support services. We offer a supportive and welcoming environment that can become your one solution for medical services, no matter your social or financial status. Everyone from all walks of life can count on us for the care and attention they need and deserve.

If you have Hepatitis C and need treatment, schedule an appointment or call us at 888.202.6052.

Listen To What Our Patients Say…

Cristina Anderson

I am thankful to the nice people at Lifeline Health. I was so scared when I found out I had been exposed. They guided me and made me feel so at ease. I have not had an issues and I know it's because I went to Lifeline Health first.

Juan Bustamonte

Thankfully there are places like Lifeline Health to get tested. This place is lowering the risk for our community by educating us and providing the resources to stay healthy. They are making positive changes in the community.

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