Hepatitis C Treatment
Overall, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 58 million globally have chronic hepatitis C infection, with an estimated 1.5 million infections occurring every year. In the past, hepatitis C required lifelong treatment to manage symptoms, however, today there are more treatment regimens for hepatitis C treatment, and the virus can be cured with timely and proper treatment. Read on to learn more about what hepatitis C is, the symptoms of hepatitis C, and when you should consult your care team.
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection that is typically transmitted person-to-person after coming in contact with contaminated blood, and if left untreated, can lead to liver disease or kidney diseases. Many of those who have hepatitis C do not have any noticeable symptoms until the virus begins to harm the liver. Hepatitis C causes liver inflammation, which can lead to liver damage, liver failure, and even liver cancer if the patient doesn’t receive hepatitis C treatment. Hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer in the United States, and the most common reason liver transplantation is needed. There are two distinct types of hepatitis C, both of which may require different ways to treat hepatitis C.
What Are the Different Forms of Hepatitis C?
There are two different known types of hepatitis C:
- Acute. This type of hepatitis C is a short-term infection with onset up to six months after coming in contact with a contaminated person’s blood. However, 75 to 85 percent of patients go on to develop chronic hepatitis.
- Chronic. This is a long-term disease that can last throughout a person’s life. It can lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, and cancer. Approximately 15,000 people a year die from liver disease caused by hepatitis C.
What Are the Symptoms of Hepatitis C?
Chronic hepatitis C infection is known as a “silent” infection, as a patient doesn’t become symptomatic until there has already been a good deal of damage done to the liver. Thus, many symptoms of hepatitis C are also shared with other causes of liver disease. Signs and symptoms of hepatitis C include:
- Easy bruising
- Dark urine
- Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes)
- Easy bleeding
- Ascites (fluid buildup in the abdomen)
- Unintended weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Spider angiomas (spider-like blood vessels on the skin)
- Hepatic encephalopathy, which causes fatigue, slurred speech, and confusion
It’s important to realize every case of chronic hepatitis C stemmed from an acute one. However, acute cases of hepatitis C rarely show symptoms either, so the patient wouldn’t know they were infected. Not all acute cases of hepatitis C become lifelong and chronic, however, in most cases they do.
What Are the Causes of Hepatitis C?
There is one cause of hepatitis C—person-to-person transmission with contaminated blood and it is an infectious disease. However, there are several ways that hepatitis C is commonly spread. They include:
- Transmission through sharing infected needles by those who have injected drugs intravenously
- Patients who received organ transplants or donated blood before 1992
- Healthcare workers who accidentally stick themselves on infected needles
There are other less common ways to transmit hepatitis C as well:
- Through sexual contact with an infected person. The risk is low but increases for those who have more than one partner.
- Infection from body piercing or tattooing, if the parlor is not sanitized properly
- Sharing a toothbrush or a razor with an infected person.
Also, baby boomers (those born between 1945 and 1965) have a higher risk of hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C cannot be spread through coughing, sneezing, kissing, or hugging.
Treatment Options for Hepatitis C
If you think you may need hepatitis C treatment, you must first receive a diagnosis from your physician. The most common way to detect hepatitis C is through a simple blood test that looks for antibodies. Your physician will also give you a physical exam to feel the liver.
If the test comes back positive with antibodies, then a PCR RNA is given. This can detect if the virus is still active in the blood. Your provider may also take a liver biopsy to examine samples.
If you receive a diagnosis and need hepatitis C treatment, your gastroenterologist will offer you one of several treatment options for hepatitis C. Because there is no vaccine for hepatitis C, the virus must be managed. There are many hepatitis C medicines available for treatment.
The first-line for hepatitis C treatment is acting antiviral medications. Sofosbuvir/velpatasvir and glecaprevir/pibrentasvir are two of the most common antivirals used now. They are highly effective and with an 8 to 12-week course can eliminate hepatitis C in over 98% of cases. Side effects are generally mild, with some patients presenting with nausea or headache.
Beyond medications, hepatitis C infection is one of the most common reasons for liver transplantation. This is reserved for the most serious of cases. During this procedure, your infected liver is replaced with a healthy one. Liver transplantation alone isn’t always effective for hepatitis C treatment; treatment must continue after the transplantation for the best outcome.