Understanding Hepatitis C infections

Understanding Hepatitis C infections

Hepatitis C is one of the leading causes of liver disease in the country. The Hepatitis C Virus (HCV) transmits through blood or other bodily fluids and infects the liver. The HCV impairs the liver, causing inflammation and leading to cirrhosis or liver cancer in the long term. The hepatitis C virus can cause acute illness and chronic, life-long infection, and the severity of the disease can vary between mild and life-threatening.

Causes
Even before the onset of the initial symptoms, hepatitis C is contagious. The virus can remain dormant for decades without harming the person. Sharing contaminated needles is one of the primary causes of hepatitis C infection. This virus can also transmit perinatally, i.e., in a mother’s womb with the hepatitis C virus. It can also be transmitted sexually through an infected person’s blood. Rarely, due to unhygienic medical practices, the hepatitis C virus can spread during transplantation procedures through an infected donor’s organs.

Symptoms
Infected people do not always exhibit symptoms, i.e., they are asymptomatic. Some people can carry the virus for 10 or 20 years before symptoms appear. Only a blood test can confirm hepatitis C.

When signs and symptoms of hepatitis C infection appear, patients can experience acute illness for 2 – 12 weeks. Asymptomatic patients typically have moderate elevations of the transaminases that suggest liver damage. However, it is only in chronic cases that liver failure is possible.

The symptoms of hepatitis C include fatigue, lack of appetite, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms also cause fever and weight loss. Fluid build-up in the abdomen and swelling in the limbs are also common. Jaundice is typically accompanied by dark urine, itching, and spider angiomas. You can also observe joint and muscle aches coupled with right upper quadrant (RUQ) pain.

Treatment
There is no way to prevent hepatitis C, but vaccines are available for the hepatitis A and B types. It is essential to get those, so the damage to the liver does not complicate chronic hepatitis C infection symptoms. However, treatment is possible for both acute and chronic types. Systematically doctor-monitored medications can cure HCV infections within a few weeks.

If the body’s immunity is strong, it can remove the virus without any external medical intervention through spontaneous viral clearance. There are also direct-acting anti-viral medications that help eliminate the virus from the body. But this works effectively only in half the people who get HCV treatment.

Liver transplantation is an option for people with severe HCV with liver damage, but patients must follow up the transplant with anti-viral medications for an effective cure.

In people with chronic hepatitis C infection, there is also a need for psychological counseling to handle both the physical and emotional impact of the disease and the life-changing consequences it can bring about.

Nutritional tips
Since the liver has to process all that a person eats or drinks, following a healthy diet regime is essential. It can help ease the pressure on it, improve liver health and even reduce the severity of symptoms of hepatitis C.

Since obesity can aggravate hepatitis C infection symptoms, a balanced diet consisting of whole grains and a variety of fruits and vegetables that provide vitamins A, B, C, fiber, folate, and potassium is necessary.

Protein enables the reduction of muscle wasting and fluid build-up common in patients with cirrhosis. Also, protein helps repair and replace damaged cells, and since hepatitis C damages liver cells, protein is an essential component in the diet. Sources of protein in the diet include eggs, chicken, fish and seafood, soy, and nuts. And if there is no lactose intolerance, include milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Stop or reduce the consumption of alcohol and excessive salty, fatty, sugary, and processed foods like chips, fast foods, sweets, chocolates, and bakery products. Also, remember to keep away from a diet rich in iron to prevent iron overload, which is common in chronic hepatitis C.

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