Frequently Asked Questions about Hepatitis C

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a virus that infects the liver, and eventually may cause liver damage. Hepatitis C leads to cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer and can cause the liver to fail. Unfortunately, many people don’t realize they have the disease until they have already experienced some of the symptoms of liver disease.

Many people who become infected with Hepatitis C develop chronic Hepatitis C. This means that they have the disease for a long time. A few people contract acute Hepatitis C, which means they will have the disease for a while, and then get better.

How Does a Person Contract Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C occurs when you are exposed to the blood of an individual who is infected with the virus. You can get Hepatitis C in several different ways. The most common way people in the United States contract the disease by sharing needles during illicit drug use. If you are using needles to inject illegal drugs, don’t share your needles with others, and don’t use a previously used needle.

If you had an organ transplant or a blood transfusion before 1992, you are a risk for contracting Hepatitis C. All blood transfusions and donations were screened for Hepatitis C after 1992.

You might get Hepatitis C if you get a shot with a needle that has infected blood on it. As long as you use a needle only once, you won’t have that problem or worry. In some countries, injections are given to more than one person using the same needle.

If you get a tattoo, be sure the needles used on the tattoo design or for any piercing are cleaned properly. People have gotten Hepatitis C from tattoos and piercing shops that didn’t properly clean their needles.

In some cases, Hepatitis C is spread to a baby from the mother at birth. Some healthcare workers become infected blood on the job.

Hepatitis C spreads through sexual contact. While the risk of contracting Hepatitis C from sexual contact is small, having multiple sexual partners increases that risk. You cannot get Hepatitis C from regular contact with people, like hugging, kissing, coughing, sharing food or drinks, or shaking hands.

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

The symptoms of Hepatitis C include:

  • Extreme fatigue.
  • Pain in the joints.
  • Abdominal pain.
  • Itching.
  • Muscular pain.
  • Dark urine.
  • Jaundice (yellow skin and eyes).

How is Hepatitis C Diagnosed?

A person can have Hepatitis C for up to 15 years and not know it. They discover they have the disease after they try to donate blood or identify elevated enzyme levels during a liver blood test. If diagnosed with Hepatitis C, you might have to have a liver needle biopsy performed to test you for cancer.

If you think you may have been exposed to Hepatitis C, you can perform an at home Hepatitis C test that is available at many drug stores. If results are positive, be sure to contact your physician for treatment.

How is Hepatitis C Treated?

Some Hepatitis C patients are treated with antiviral medications. These medications are not a right choice for everyone, however. The amount of liver damage and infection a Hepatitis C patient has directly affects the medication they will take. There are several types of Hepatitis C. The medication you will be given is determined by the exact virus you have.

It is important that the Hepatitis C patient avoid any medications that may overwork the liver. For this same reason, alcohol, and illicit drug use should be avoided, too.

Living with Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C patients can have many uncomfortable symptoms or almost no symptoms. Health care providers will help treat your Hepatitis C and symptoms. Rest if you feel tired. Take any medications prescribed for you. Get regular exercise and eat healthy foods. Get some help at work and home so you don’t overdo. If you have substance abuse problems, now is the time to go to treatment. Following this advice will help you have a good quality of life with Hepatitis C.