HCV infection is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States and is classified as a liver disease. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread through inadvertent exposure to infected blood. When the virus first enters the body, there are usually no symptoms. But with time, the virus causes scarring to the liver, which is called cirrhosis and the disease can become chronic.
Hepatitis C treatment depends on whether the disease is caught early or liver scarring has already occurred and become chronic. If caught early, the disease can be treated with antivirals. However, once the disease becomes chronic, it may cause liver failure and require liver transplantation.
Hepatitis C Causes
An estimated 4.1 million Americans are currently infected with hepatitis C. The most common way someone can become infected is through sharing drug paraphernalia, such as needles. However, there are several other ways you can contract this disease as well:
- Unsafe sex
- Mother with hepatitis C: Approximately 4 of every 100 infants born to HCV-infected mothers become infected with the virus.
- Blood transfusions (prior to 1992): Prior to 1992, some people acquired the HCV infection from transfusions of blood or blood products. Since 1992, all blood products have been screened for HCV, and cases of HCV due to blood transfusion now are extremely rare.
- Illegal injection drugs
- Unsafe tattoo parlors and acupuncture: the growing popularity of tattooing and acupuncture can put people at risk of developing hepatitis from improperly sterilized equipment used in these procedures. Be careful when you choose your tattoo parlor or acupuncturist. Make sure that they have the proper licensing and qualifications.
Symptoms of Hepatitis C
Diagnosing Hepatitis C can be a challenge. About 75% of people have no symptoms when they first become infected. The remaining 25% have mild and vague symptoms such as fatigue, loss of appetite, and nausea. Over time, people suffering from this chronic infection may begin to experience the effects of the persistent inflammation of the liver, caused by the immune reaction to the virus. As the liver disease develops (cirrhosis), symptoms increase and may include:
- Yellowish eyes and yellowing of the skin (jaundice)
- Swollen stomach or ankles
- Bruising easily
- Muscle aches
- Upset stomach
- Light-colored stools
- Dark yellow urine
- Loss of appetite
- General malaise (unwell feeling)
Hepatitis C Diagnosis
- Blood tests may show elevated levels of liver enzymes which is a sign of liver damage. This is often the first suggestion that the infection may be present. Blood tests will allow you to measure the quantity of the hepatitis C virus in your blood and determine the genetic makeup of the virus, which helps determine your treatment options.
- In addition, your doctor may also recommend a liver biopsy. This is to determine how much damage – including scarring and inflammation – to the liver has already taken place. The results of the liver biopsy will help determine the appropriate treatment for hepatitis C.
Treatment Options for Hepatitis C
A diagnosis of hepatitis C doesn’t necessarily mean that you will need treatment. You will probably be given vaccinations against hepatitis B or hepatitis A and advised to give up alcohol.
However, if you’re experiencing slight liver abnormalities, you may not need treatment, because your risk of future liver problems is very low. Treatment is usually considered for people who have had elevated liver function tests for at least 3 months and have liver inflammation or cirrhosis confirmed by a biopsy.
If you do need treatment, you will probably be given antiviral medications. Your doctor may recommend a combination of medications taken over several weeks. Antiviral medications can cause depression and flu-like signs and symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, and headache. In some cases, the side effects are serious enough to stop treatment. For others, the first round of drug treatment does not eliminate the virus from your liver, and a second round is recommended.
If your liver is severely damaged, you may require a liver transplant.
Natural Remedies for Hepatitis C (Alternative Therapies)
- Hepatitis can benefit from dietary modifications, use of certain ayurvedic herbs and simple lifestyle modifications.
- Herbal therapies have been studied and shown to provide benefits to liver functions, such as the use of turmeric, Guduchi (heart-leaved moonseed), Musta (Nutgrass), Bhringaraj (False Daisy), Haritaki (Black Myrobalan), pippali (Long pepper), licorice etc. These herbs are believed to relieve symptoms of hepatitis due to their anti-inflammatory properties.
- Yoga postures can be practiced for those who are strong enough to perform them. The yogic postures are believed to boost the immune system and strengthen the liver. Some of these asanas are: Vajraasana (Diamond Pose), Shalabhasana (Locust Pose), Halasana (Plow Pose), Padahastasana (Hand Under Foot pose), Savasana (Corpse Pose) etc.
- Homeopathic treatments in hepatitis treatment have been studied by very few researchers, but nevertheless, a few remedies that a homeopath may prescribe in hepatitis treatment are as follows:
- Acupuncture Chinese naturopaths may also suggest the use of acupuncture to treat hepatitis, which helps by boosting and strengthening the immune system. However, there has been some concern over the use of infected or non-sterile needles used during the acupuncture session.
- Adapting some lifestyle changes can also go a long way in keeping yourself healthy and also protecting others. It would be best to avoid alcohol during and right after a hepatitis episode along with medications that can cause severe damage to the liver.
Hepatitis C Prevention
You can protect yourself against hepatitis C by doing the following:
- Don’t do illicit drugs
- Don’t share toothbrushes
- Don’t share razors
- Be cautious about body piercing and tattoos
- Be cautious about acupuncture studios and make sure the needs are sterilized
- Practice safe sex
Talk to Your Doctor About Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a disease of the liver. Intravenous drug abuse is the most common mode of transference. The disease can be treated with antiviral medications, or in its more serious stages, with a liver transplant. However, the best way to avoid transmission is through prevention. By avoiding unsafe sex, illicit drug use and taking care when visiting tattoo, piercing or acupuncture studios, you can reduce your risk of contracting hepatitis C.
If you’re experiencing any of the previously stated symptoms, make sure to speak to your doctor immediately and ask if any of the alternative therapies would beneficial for you.
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