Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (or inflammation) of the liver. If you've been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you may be worrying about your health. Let's answer some questions you may have about hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C is irritation and swelling of the liver from infection with the hepatitis C virus. You can get hepatitis C if you have been on long-term kidney dialysis, or have regular contact with blood at work (such as a health care worker), have unprotected sex with someone infected with hepatitis C, use injected street drugs or share a needle with someone who has hepatitis C, received a tattoo or acupuncture from contaminated instruments, although the risk is low with licensed, commercial tattoo shops, received blood or organs from a donor who has hepatitis C, share a toothbrush or razors with someone who has the disease, or were born to a mother infected with hepatitis C.
Most people newly infected with hepatitis C virus will not have symptoms. About 10 percent will have jaundice (or yellow skin) that gets better. The bad news is that most people infected with hepatitis C will have it for a long time, usually with no symptoms. Typically, long-term hepatitis C infection can lead to liver scarring, a condition called cirrhosis, or even liver cancer.
If your doctor suspects hepatitis C, you will need blood tests to confirm the diagnosis. If you've had the disease for a long time, you doctor can use a procedure called a liver biopsy to see how much damage has been done to your liver.
You will need to take medicine to try to remove the virus from your blood and reduce your risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. The most common medications are a combination of pegylated interferon alfa and ribavirin, an antiviral medication. Pegylated interferon alfa is an injection you will probably receive weekly. You can take ribavirin as a capsule twice a day. Treatment may last up to 48 weeks.
Most people with hepatitis C have the chronic form. But some people may get better with treatment, although they may need continued testing. Even if treatment doesn't remove the virus from your blood, it can reduce your chance of severe liver disease.
- Last reviewed on 2/19/2016
- Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
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