Hepatitis C

Overview

Hepatitis C is a serious viral infection that attacks the liver. It’s the leading cause of liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver failure and liver cancer. Although most who have it don’t know it until routine tests show liver damage, approximately 2.7 million people in the United States have the disease. It typically spreads via the contaminated blood or body fluids of an infected person by sharing infected needles and other supplies used to inject drugs. It requires a medical diagnosis and will continue to last over the long term for 75%-85% of infected people. It’s the reason for liver transplantation in the United States.

Symptoms

Most people have no symptoms. Hepatitis C symptoms can include:

  • Fever
  • Muscle and joint pain
  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin and eyes)
  • Abdominal pain
  • Fatigue
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements

Diagnosis

To diagnose hepatitis C, your doctor will ask you about any risk factors and symptoms you may have. Then he or she will perform a physical exam, and may order blood tests. 

Services & Treatment

If you have hepatitis C, your doctor will work with you on the best treatment option. You should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. You may not need treatment for hepatitis C, though your doctor may suggest ways to help with symptoms such as nausea and low energy, or may recommend an antiviral medication. Your doctor may also recommend that you get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B to avoid contracting them and further damaging your liver.

If you have hepatitis C, take steps to protect your health and the health of others:
 
  • Avoid drinking alcohol
  • Do not take any new medicines, including over-the-counter and herbal medicines without first checking with your doctor
  • Cover open wounds
  • Don't share personal care articles that might have traces of blood on them such as toothbrushes or razors
  • Don't donate blood, organs or semen if you're infected
  • Tell health care workers that you have the virus so they can protect themselves from coming into contact with your blood
  • Do not use intravenous drugs and/or share equipment
  • Practice safe sex; if you have sex, use protection and ask partners about their sexual health
  • Be careful if you get a tattoo, body piercing or a manicure; the equipment needs to be clean

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