Hepatitis C is a stealthy virus that mutates while
hiding in liver cells and other organ cells like the spleen and gall
bladder. The fact that the viral cells "hide" makes it very
difficult for the body's immune system to eradicate it.
It is a slowly progressing disease sometimes taking many years
until symptoms are noticeable. It is at this point that the virus
has reached advanced chronic stage and becomes difficult to
The disease results in 8,000 to 10,000 deaths annually. Hepatitis
C is also the leading cause of liver transplants in the U.S.
The infection is caused by blood contact with someone who has the
virus infection himself. The transmission of the virus can occur by
illicit drug use with needles, sharing toothbrushes or razors with
an infected person, by sexual means, by unsanitary tattooing or by
exposure to blood at your workplace (like a hospital or blood bank).
Some HCV infection may have been caused by receiving blood from a
transfusion prior to 1992.
Diagnosis of Hepatitis C is via a blood test. Usually, the first
thing that is noticed is that the liver enzyme levels for ALT and
AST are elevated well above normal levels. Further investigation via
HCV-RNA testing identifies whether the Hepatitis C virus is in your
blood or not. Other tests for HCV include qualitative viral load
tests, which measure the RNA particles in your blood. If you are
being treated for HCV, your doctor is probably using either a
HCV-RNA or viral load test to determine the effectiveness of the
The symptoms of Hepatitis C infection often do not occur in a
person until 20 years after he/she had been infected. Since the HCV
infects the liver and the liver is the organ in the body that makes
all the energy for our daily activities possible, liver function
deterioration often results in fatigue.
Fatigue is the primary complaint or symptom of HCV infection.
Other more severe symptoms are jaundice (yellowing of the
skin/eyes), bile retention (which can cause jaundice), portal vein
hypertension, skin rashes and itching, and autoimmune problems
resulting from your body's immune system attacking normal cells.
Long term HCV infection may result in fibrosis or even cirrhosis
of the liver. Fibrosis results from unchecked liver inflammation. As
the HCV infection progresses, the damage to the liver results in
scarring or hardening of the liver cells (fibrosis). Long term
fibrosis may lead to cirrhosis which is when the scarring from
fibrosis overtakes the normal liver cell structure causing deformity
and loss of function in the liver.
About 15%-20% of HCV patients end up with cirrhosis. A liver
biopsy is currently the most accurate means of determining the
amount of inflammation and fibrosis the liver has sustained.
Hepatitis C progression in the body can take several years or
even decades to come to chronic stage or to a stage where severe
liver damage is evident. This period of time allows a person to
determine how to properly treat the disease and to decide on a
course of disease management.
Currently, the main treatment for HCV infection to eradicate the
virus is combo alpha-interferon and Ribavirin. Sometimes a doctor
may prescribe interferon alone. Interferon comes in standard form or
in pegylated form.
Standard form interferon is administered 3 times per week, while
the pegylated form is administered only once per week. Your body
makes its own interferon, which is a protein that fights viral
infection and viral replication.
Hepatitis C may often be managed by taking herbal and vitamin
supplements that help your body fight infection and limit
inflammation. These supplements help your liver with the
inflammation and give it the nutrients it needs to regenerate
healthy new cells. Your doctor can recommend alternative or adjunct
solutions you may want to try.
Proper treatment of the disease, a healthy and active lifestyle,
a good diet, abstinence from alcohol and stress management are
important factors in controlling Hepatitis C progression.
When following these treatments to control and manage Hepatitis
C, be sure to adhere strictly to the guidelines prescribed by your
doctor for each one.