Hepatitis C is a form of viral hepatitis that causes liver inflammation chronic liver disease. Your liver is your largest internal organ and performs many important functions in your body. Hepatic lobules inside your liver filter all the blood that courses through your body. These lobules break down harmful substances, remove bacteria and worn out blood cells, and form clotting factors that control bleeding. Your liver also makes bile. Your gallbladder stores bile and releases it into your small intestine. Bile helps your body to digest the fat in the food you eat. After you eat your liver makes and stores nutrients that provide your body with energy when you need it.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 80% of people who have an acute form of hepatitis C will experience no symptoms. In certain cases, you can experience some symptoms not long after the virus has infected you. These symptoms can range in from mild to severe in intensity, and include:
- Poor Appetite
- Stomach Pain
- Joint Pain
- Muscle Pain
- Urine Abnormalities
- Bowel Movement Abnormalities
- Yellowing of Skin or Eyes
The early symptoms of hepatitis C are most likely to show up around six or seven weeks after you are exposed to the virus. Some people experience delayed symptoms of hepatitis C. It could be anywhere from six months to ten years or more before you could be aware of any symptoms. Since everyone experiences hepatitis C differently, it can take years for hepatitis C to lead to liver damage.
You can catch hepatitis C if you directly expose yourself to blood or other body fluids that have come from the body of someone infected with the virus. You can get hepatitis C if you have the following types of contact with an infected person:
- Sharing Syringes
- Sexual Contact
- Sharing Personal Items: Razors, Toothbrush, Hairbrush
- Blood or Body Fluid Interaction
- Mother to Baby During Birth
Because the symptoms of hepatitis C are a little vague, it can be difficult to tell based on symptoms alone whether you have an infection. Your doctor will perform a simple blood test to confirm whether or not you have hepatitis C.
Types of hepatitis C
There are two main types of hepatitis C: acute and chronic. Acute Hepatitis C symptoms will be more short term, lasting six months or less. Depending on how much (and how quickly) damage is done to the liver, acute hepatitis C can lead to chronic hepatitis C. Chronic Hepatitis C is a type of hepatitis that can last for your entire life because it is hard for your body to get rid of the virus.
During the early phase of hepatitis C, the infection enters your liver and invades your liver cells. Once hepatitis C is inside your liver cells, it copies itself. Hepatitis C changes and mutates, quickly making new strains of itself. Your body reacts to hepatitis C by sending immune cells to attack the virus. However, this also means that your liver cells infected with the virus are damaged, becoming inflamed and dying. Scar tissue will form around dead and infected liver cells, which prevents your liver from working properly. If you have a chronic hepatitis C infection, your liver will amass a large amount of scar tissue, which can prevent blood flow and cause your liver to permanently shrink or harden. This is known as cirrhosis of the liver.
Unfortunately, there is no effective vaccine for the virus. Vaccines contain weakened and inactive viruses. These “watered down” versions of a virus train your immune system to attack certain viruses. Since hepatitis C mutates frequently, it cannot be contained or cured by a vaccine.
If your infection is not chronic, your immune system may be able to get rid of the hepatitis C virus. If you have a chronic case of hepatitis C, you may need to take permanent oral doses of Ribavirin, along with steady injections of Interferon. These two drugs used together are known to help hepatitis C patients live with their condition. If you have a severe case of chronic hepatitis C with advanced cirrhosis of the liver you may need a liver transplant operation.
Take precautions and practice preventative measures to make sure you are safe from developing this condition. Practicing safer sex, making sure clean and sterile needles are used if you get tattooed or pierced, and avoiding the sharing of needles are all good ways to help with prevention.
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