Hepatitis C is an infectious disease caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV) that primarily affects the liver. It is a major global health issue, with an estimated 71 million people worldwide living with chronic hepatitis C. However, it is important to note that not everyone infected with HCV will develop symptoms or progress to chronic hepatitis C.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C:
Many people infected with HCV do not experience any symptoms during the acute phase, which can last from a few weeks to six months after exposure. When symptoms do occur, they can often be vague and mild, making it challenging to diagnose hepatitis C based on symptoms alone. Some of the common symptoms of acute hepatitis C include fatigue, fever, dark urine, clay-colored stool, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).
Chronic hepatitis C, which develops when the infection becomes persistent, can lead to more severe symptoms and long-term complications if left untreated. These symptoms can include ongoing fatigue, abdominal pain, persistent jaundice, itchy skin, easy bruising or bleeding, fluid buildup in the abdomen, and swelling in the legs.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C:
Hepatitis C is diagnosed through a series of tests, starting with a blood test to detect the presence of HCV antibodies. If the antibody test is positive, further tests are conducted to confirm the presence of the virus and determine the degree of liver damage.
1. HCV RNA Test: This test detects the genetic material (RNA) of the hepatitis C virus in the blood. It helps confirm an active infection and measures the viral load, which indicates the amount of virus in the bloodstream.
2. Genotype Testing: Hepatitis C virus can be classified into different genotypes based on its genetic makeup. Knowing the specific genotype is important in determining the most appropriate treatment approach.
3. Liver Function Tests: These tests measure the levels of enzymes and proteins in the blood that are indicators of liver function. Elevated levels of these enzymes can signify liver inflammation or damage.
4. Imaging Tests: Imaging techniques like ultrasound, CT scan, or MRI may be used to assess the condition of the liver and check for any signs of advanced liver disease, such as cirrhosis or liver cancer.
It is important to note that routine screening for hepatitis C is not recommended for everyone, but it is recommended for individuals who are at higher risk, such as those who have a history of injection drug use, received a blood transfusion before 1992, have received organ transplants, or born to HCV-positive mothers.
Early diagnosis and appropriate treatment are crucial in managing hepatitis C to prevent the progression of liver damage and reduce the risk of long-term complications. If you suspect you may have been exposed to hepatitis C or are experiencing any symptoms, it is important to consult with a healthcare professional who can guide you through the necessary tests and provide appropriate care.