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Hepatitis C: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection of the liver presenting as jaundice and abnormal liver function tests. It is a communicable disease and is potentially preventable.

Hepatitis C: Incidence, age and sex

Hepatitis C is a fairly common cause of infective hepatitis. It occurs mainly in adults. No gender predilection has yet been documented.

Signs and symptoms of hepatitis C: Diagnosis

Hepatitis C presents with a prodromal illness of malaise, fatigue and low grade temperature which is followed by the appearance of jaundice manifested by yellowing of the eyes and passage of high coloured urine. Usually, there is profound loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting and upper abdominal pain. There may also be itching all over the body as a result of stagnation of bile into the small ducts in liver (canaliculi). On examination, apart from jaundice there is usually enlargement of the liver. Signs of dehydration may be present. On lab evaluation there is rise in bilirubin and liver enzymes. A specific blood test is done to detect antibodies against Hepatitis C. Chronic Hepatitis C infection may occur without any symptoms.

Causes and prevention of hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a viral infection and is mainly transmitted by the use of infected blood, infected needles and syringes. Sexual intercourse is also implicated as a mode of transmission. The preventive measures include use of sterile syringes and needles, use of properly tested blood products and safe sexual practices (use of condoms). There is no vaccine available for prevention of Hepatitis C.

Hepatitis C: Complications

Hepatitis C in its acute phase may cause dehydration, malnutrition and general weakness. Acute hepatitis C can progress to chronic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver. There may be increased pressure in portal veins leading to vomiting of large amounts of blood. Large amount of fluid can accumulate in abdomen (ascitis). In advanced liver failure, the patient can have neurological and behavioural problems and may be quite incapacitated (hepatic coma). Chronic hepatitis C infection can lead to development of cancer of the liver after two or three decades.

Hepatitis C: Treatment

The treatment of acute hepatitis C involves sufficient fluid intake, ensuring hydration, administration of drugs to control vomiting, maintaining proper nutrition and avoidance of alcohol or any drug known to damage the liver. The complications of liver failure should be managed appropriately. Antiviral drugs may also be prescribed in chronic hepatitis C infection.