Hepatitis C – Symptoms, causes, treatments and more

Hepatitis C – Symptoms, causes, treatments and more

Hepatitis C is a viral liver infection, leading to inflammation and chronic damage to the organ. The hepatitis C virus (HCV) is the causal organism of this disease. There are five stages of this infection- incubation period (time between the contact with the virus and the appearance of symptoms), acute hepatitis C (short-term illness lasting for six months), chronic hepatitis C (long-term infection), cirrhosis (scarring and severe inflammation of the liver), and liver cancer (malignancy in the liver). Regular screening, timely diagnosis, and early treatment can cure hepatitis C in most cases.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis C range from mild to severe as the infection progresses from the acute to the chronic stage. In some cases, patients do not manifest any symptoms until the disease reaches an advanced stage. However, they can transmit the infection to others in this condition.

Symptoms of Acute Hepatitis C

Symptoms of acute hepatitis C usually develop after 2 to 12 weeks of exposure to the virus. Since these signs mimic many other medical issues, doctors often describe hepatitis C as a “silent epidemic.” It usually remains undiagnosed, and many patients clear this infection from their body spontaneously. Studies reveal that about 15 to 25 percent of acute hepatitis C patients undergo spontaneous viral clearance. Here are the symptoms of acute hepatitis C.

  • Fever
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored stool
  • Abdominal pain and discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Joint aches
  • Jaundice (yellowing of skin, eyes, and nails due to high level of bilirubin)

Symptoms of Chronic Hepatitis C

If the hepatitis C infection does not recover in the acute stage, then patients may progress into the chronic stage. It is an advanced stage of liver infection and develops after six months of suffering from hepatitis C. Have a look at the symptoms of chronic hepatitis C.

  • Tendency of bleeding easily from minor cuts and injury
  • Patients also experience frequent bruising of the skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Jaundice (bilirubin level higher than the acute stage)
  • Itchy skin
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Ascites (accumulation of body fluids inside the abdominal cavity)
  • Fluid buildup in legs
  • Weight loss
  • Severe fatigue
  • Hepatic encephalopathy (confusion and slurred speech due to advanced liver infection)
  • Spider angioma (development of web-like blood vessels on the skin)

Causes
The causal organism for hepatitis C is the hepatitis C virus (HCV). It mostly transmits from the infected patient to a healthy individual through blood-to-blood contact. Even a speck of blood, which you cannot see with the naked eye, can carry hundreds of hepatitis C virus components along with them.

It is challenging to kill the pathogen with medical equipment through standard sterilization techniques like boiling, using concentrated alcohol, burning, and rinsing with peroxide solution. You should not even clean these devices by applying bleach or other disinfectants as they can cause an adverse reaction on the human cells and tissues. Hospitals recommend the use of sterile syringes and other medical equipment so that there are limited chances of transmitting HCV.

It is also worth pointing out that HCV does not transmit through casual contact like shaking hands, hugging, mosquito bites, coughing, sharing utensils and food, and breathing in the same room. Some of the conventional methods of transmission of HCV are:

  • Sharing the same needle while administering a medical injection or drugs
  • Having unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Transmitting the virus to the child after birth
  • Sharing razors, blades, and nail clippers
  • Undergoing a tattoo or piercing through unsterilized devices

Treatment options

When patients complain of hepatitis C symptoms, doctors prescribe blood tests, Magnetic Resonance Elastography (MRE), Transient Elastography, or liver biopsy for the detection of the underlying medical condition. If the results come out as positive, then immediate treatment can prevent the progression of the infection from acute to chronic or other advanced stages. Detailed below are the standard treatment options for hepatitis C.

  • Antiviral medications

Physicians often prescribe antiviral medications for clearing up HCV. They try to design a customized treatment plan so that patients do not report the presence of any HCV even after 12 weeks of the completion of the medicine course. Daclatasvir, sofosbuvir-velpatasvir, ledipasvir-sofosbuvir, and glecaprevir and pibrentasvir are some potent groups of antiviral medications which you need to take daily for eight to twelve weeks. The course of medicines depends on the stage of the hepatitis C infection, the genotype of pathogen, and other accompanying medical conditions.

Unlike the earlier hepatitis C medicines (interferon, peginterferon, and ribavirin), the present group of antiviral medications does not cause any severe side effects like anemia, skin rashes, nausea, diarrhea, anxiety, and depression. These are direct-acting antiviral (DAAs) medicines and offer better outcomes at treating liver damage. Throughout the treatment plan (8 to 12 weeks), your physician will closely monitor your health conditions through repeated tests and medical procedures and accordingly revise the therapy.

  • Liver Transplantation

If the hepatitis C infection reaches an advanced stage, the liver becomes highly inflamed and scarred. In such a condition, regular antiviral medications do not offer much relief to patients. Doctors consider liver transplantation as an effective treatment to cure the hepatitis C infection. Here, surgeons remove the infected liver from the patient’s body and replace it with a healthy liver from a matching donor.

In some cases, doctors may also transplant a small portion of the liver from a genetically matching donor. However, liver transplant surgery is a major operation and has a high risk of postoperative complications like the rejection of the donated liver, bleeding, and infection. Doctors should thoroughly study the medical history of the hepatitis C patient before recommending transplantation surgery. They should also devise a postoperative treatment regime, as transplant alone may not cure the liver infection. A course of direct-acting antiviral medication can prove to be beneficial in healing complications of liver infection after the surgery.

Natural remedies

 

If the hepatitis C infection is in the preliminary stage, you can also try natural remedies to relieve the symptoms. Unlike antiviral medicines, they do not lead to severe side-effects or long-term complications. Have a look at some of the tried and tested natural remedies for hepatitis C infection.

  • Yoga

Studies reveal that combining yoga with other treatment measures of hepatitis C can holistically help recover from the infection. It helps in strengthening and stimulating the liver functions and de-stressing the organ. Yoga postures like spinal twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana) and Cow pose (Bitilasana) can reduce inflammation and fibrosis in the liver caused by hepatitis C infection. Along with improving the liver function, yoga can also reduce abdominal fat and maintain the body mass index and the blood pressure within the standard range. However, you should be careful before selecting a yoga expert or registering for a yoga class. Unusual stretches or pulls can do more harm than good. Many patients complain of aggravation of hepatitis C symptoms after faulty yoga poses.

  • Meditation

Experts believe that regular meditation can slow down the progression of hepatitis C infection. Many liver clinics and hospitals also advise hepatitis C patients to enroll for yoga and meditation classes apart from taking medication, for quick healing of the liver. It helps in reducing the associated discomfort and relaxes your mind. Though it is still not clear whether meditation can heal the liver infection, it can mentally prepare patients to bear the physical discomforts associated with the disease. Deep breathing can focus your attention on the healing process, and you can expect the best outcome from your treatment. Dedicate a specific time of the day for meditation, for attaining fruitful results of this therapy. You can also seek guidance from your doctor when you are looking for the best meditation center in your locality.

  • Regular exercises

Making positive changes in your lifestyle can also help prevent the spread of hepatitis C infection and ensure quick healing. Go for at least 30 minutes of exercise for five days a week to maintain your health. It will improve your endurance level and help you deal with the side-effects of the antiviral medications positively. Hepatitis C infection can lead to fatigue and tiredness among patients. In such a condition, hitting the gym can be the last thing that comes to your mind. However, if you gain the courage and get moving, it can offer fantastic results along with your current treatment plan. You can start with a 10-minute brisk walk in the beginning, and then steadily move on to a half an hour workout session. Exercising in the open, like in a park, can be more beneficial for the system.

Supplements

  • Zinc supplement

Studies suggest that zinc is crucial for maintaining liver function and boosting your immunity. However, hepatitis C often reduces the level of this essential mineral in the blood. Research also suggests that zinc can help in alleviating the liver inflammation symptoms and reduce the recovery time of your treatment plan. You can consider the consumption of zinc supplements along with your regular medicines to cure hepatitis C. However, always consult with your physician to determine the correct doses and brands of the supplement.  Most doctors feel that an intake of 40 milligrams of zinc is beneficial for liver damage.

  • Vitamin D supplement 

Similar to zinc, vitamin D also helps in improving your immune system by boosting the immune cells. However, chronic hepatitis C infection reduces the level of this vitamin. Relax! There is nothing to worry about. Sunlight and fatty fishes like salmon, herring, sardine, tuna, cod liver oil, and mushroom can provide you with sufficient quantities of vitamin D. If you are still unsure about the vitamin content, ask your doctor to prescribe a blood test. If the vitamin D level is still below the standard range, you can start a supplement dose after consulting your physician.

Foods to manage Hepatitis C

Whenever patients get diagnosed with a liver ailment like hepatitis C, they become apprehensive about their diet plan. The liver is a vital organ concerned with the detoxification of all harmful compounds entering your body. If the liver function becomes impaired, then it is crucial to follow a strict meal plan for the smooth recovery of the organ.

Before finalizing your diet, pay attention to the following outcomes:

  • Maintain weight and BMI within the standard range
  • Check the blood sugar level
  • Prevent hepatic steatosis (a condition in which excess fat accumulates within the liver)

Fresh fruit and vegetables

Include a large amount of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. They are rich in antioxidants, which help negate disease-causing free radicals and thus boost the immune system. Moreover, farm-fresh veggies also have sufficient fibers, vitamins, and folic acid, which are beneficial for improving liver function. Stay away from processed and canned fruits and vegetables as most of the active ingredients in these food products get lost during the storing process. The addition of preservatives also negatively impacts liver function.

Protein

Protein is essential for repairing the damaged liver cells and the quick healing of the organ. You can obtain lean protein from seafood like tuna, mackerel, sardine, trout, and herring, chicken without skin, egg albumin, and legumes. Include generous servings of these food products in your meals. Patients who are suffering from cirrhosis of the liver should also consume adequate protein to prevent muscle wasting and fluid buildup.

Whole grains

While selecting the best carbohydrates for a hepatitis C diet, pay more attention to whole grains present in whole wheat, oats, and brown rice. They are rich in fibers and vitamins. Opt for whole wheat bread and pasta instead of refined flour to reduce the symptoms of hepatitis C.

So, now that you know all about the signs, causes, and treatment methods of hepatitis C, you are better positioned to manage and prevent this disease. If you are experiencing any warning signs, immediately visit a doctor for early detection. This will help ensure timely treatment and fast healing of the infection.

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