Living Well

The FAQs of Hepatitis C

Last updated: Jul 20, 2018

 

You’ve heard of hepatitis C, but you may not know how it’s spread or what you can do to protect yourself. These frequently asked questions cover the basics of hepatitis C.
 

What Is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a type of liver disease. It can be acute or chronic. Acute hepatitis C lasts for six months or less. Chronic hepatitis C can last for the rest of your life.

In most cases, acute hepatitis C leads to chronic hepatitis C. But in some cases, people with acute hepatitis C clear the virus from their bodies without any treatment. Doctors aren’t exactly sure why this happens.
 

How Does Someone Get Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is spread by blood from one person to another. Most people get hepatitis C from sharing needles to inject drugs. Before 1992, hepatitis C was also spread through organ transplants and blood transfusions.

Less often, hepatitis C is spread through sex or sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes. Sometimes it’s spread from a mother with hepatitis C to her baby during birth, but this is rare.
 

What Are the Symptoms?

Most people have no symptoms, so you can have the virus for many years without feeling sick. If you do have symptoms, they most often occur six to seven weeks after you’re exposed to the virus. But you can have symptoms from two weeks to six months after exposure. Symptoms can include:

• Bowel movements that are clay-colored or gray-colored

• Dark-colored urine

• Fatigue

• Fever

• Jaundice (yellow-colored eyes or skin)

• Joint pain

• Loss of appetite

• Muscle pain

• Nausea

• Stomach pain

• Vomiting

 

How Do I Find Out if I Have Hepatitis C?

The only way to learn if you have hepatitis C is to get tested for it. The screening test is called a hepatitis C antibody test. It’s not part of a normal checkup, so you have to ask your doctor for it.

 

Who Should Get Tested?

You should get tested if you:

• Are exposed to blood at your job (such as getting stuck with a needle)

• Are on hemodialysis

• Have ever injected drugs

• Have HIV or AIDS

• Have liver disease or abnormal liver tests

• Received a blood transfusion or organ donation before 1992

• Were born between 1945 and 1965

• Were born to a mother who had hepatitis C

 

How Long Can You Have Hepatitis C and Not Know It?

Some people have hepatitis C for decades without knowing it. But even if you don’t have symptoms, hepatitis C can still damage your liver. The longer you have it, the more likely it will cause liver damage or liver cancer. That’s why it’s important to get tested if you’re at risk.

 

How Serious Is Hepatitis C?

Chronic hepatitis C is a serious condition that can cause liver damage, liver failure, and liver cancer. But once you know you have hepatitis C, you can take steps to help keep your liver healthy.

 

Are There Treatments?

Yes. Until just a few years ago, the most common treatment for hepatitis C was injections of interferon given for up to a year, with cure rates of only 40 to 50 percent. Today’s pills make a huge difference to patients: They are taken for only 12 weeks and have cure rates of 90 to 100 percent. Treatment may not be right for everyone.

 

Is There a Vaccine for Hepatitis C?

Researchers are looking to develop a vaccine, but one doesn’t exist yet.

 

If you have concerns or would like to learn more about Hepatitis C and your risk, visit one of our gastroenterologists.

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