What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is a viral infection, a blood borne virus which was not identified until 1989 and a laboratory test was not available until February 1990.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C can include some or all of the following:
Fatigue – Nausea – Poor Appetitie – Weight Loss – Flu-like symptoms – Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes) – Skin rash – Dry eyes – Joint Pain – Insomnia – Depression
Some people with Hepatitis C continue to feel well and have no obvious signs of illness for many years.
For most people, the Hepatitis C virus infection becomes long term (chronic). Hepatitis C can cause inflammation of the liver. The inflammation of the liver becomes chronic Hepatitis C. The damage which can be caused to the liver by this inflammation is called fibrosis. Over a period of time 10-30 years this fibrosis can become severe and the liver can become seriously scarred. This is called cirrhosis. It is thought that about half of those who have cirrhosis can go on to develop Hepatacellular Carcinoma (liver cancer).
Currently there is no vaccine for Hepatitis C.
Some people are living with active Hepatitis C Virus, others have cleared the virus through their own immune system but have Anti-bodies to Hepatitis C and others have cleared the virus and anti-bodies through their own immune system. However some of those who have cleared the virus and/or the anti-bodies still suffer from the side effects of Hepatitis C.
LIVING WITH HEPATITIS C
While it is normal to feel a certain amount of stress can affect your health and can lead to tension in all areas of your life. It is important to be able to talk through your worries with someone you feel comfortable with.
Try to keep as healthy as possible. A balanced diet which includes all the main food groups especially fruit and vegetables is important. You should avoid where possible fatty foods, too much sugar and excess tea and coffee. Alcohol is toxic to the liver and can kill liver cells. You should avoid alcohol altogether if your liver is already inflamed. Excess alcohol can make the inflammation worse and this can lead to cirrhosis.
Remember the whole family is affected by your Hepatitis C. You may need to adapt your lifestyle to cope with fatigue and other symptoms. Your family members need time to adjust to any changes in lifestyle. It is important for close family members to be aware of your concerns and indeed family members may benefit from confiding their own concerns and worries with a counsellor.
TREATMENT OF HEPATITIS C
At some stage of your illness you may be offered treatment. Before deciding to start treatment you should be very clear what the treatment involves, how long it will go on for, how successful it may be and what the side effects of treatment may be. This can be a very difficult decision and it may help you to talk with a counsellor before making this decision.
It might be useful before deciding to start treatment to have a liver biopsy. This is something you should discuss with your liver specialist. If you do decide to have a liver biopsy make sure that you discuss the findings with your liver specialist and make sure you understand what the results mean for you.