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Hepatitis C Overview

*Please understand that the information you find at this site is intended to be for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Hepatitis C is a serious medical condition and requires the expertise of a medical professional.*

This page is divided into sections. Please click the links below to take you to that section:

Hepatitis C | Your Liver | What is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C Defined | Hepatitis C Undefined | Hepatitis C Symptoms

Hepatitis C:

Hepatitis C is a life-threatening, blood borne disease of the liver, which is transmitted by exposure to blood. A particularly dangerous form of viral hepatitis, it is caused by an RNA virus. Hepatitis C can lead to serious, permanent liver damage, and in many cases, death. More than 80 percent of those who are infected will progress to chronic liver disease. It is suspected that there are, at present, more than 4.5 million people in the United States that are infected with hepatitis C, and more than 200 million around the world.

It is suspected that there are, at present, more than 5 million people in the United States that are infected with Hepatitis C, and perhaps as many as 200 million around the world. This makes it one of the greatest public health threats faced in this century, and perhaps one of the greatest threats to be faced in the next century. Without rapid intervention to contain the spread of the disease, the death rate from hepatitis C will surpass that from AIDS by the turn of the century and will only get worse.

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Your Liver

The liver is one of the most important organs in the human body. Our largest organ, it is centrally located in the abdomen.

The liver is intimately involved in almost every part of the body's processes. It has four particularly crucial functions:

1) Fuel Management. The liver is vital to the management of the three major fuels used by the body: carbohydrate, fat, and protein.

2) Nitrogen Excretion. The liver is the only organ capable of removing nitrogen from the body. Nitrogen is a basic component of proteins, the basic building blocks for most of the body's substances. As a result, the regulation, synthesis, and breakdown of protein - and thus life and health - is wholly dependent on liver function.

3) Water balance. The liver creates many of the components of blood - including those that control the distribution of water between the blood, cells, and tissues.

4) Detoxification. The body is constantly subjected to a variety of dangerous substances, both natural toxins (like alcohol, metals, and so forth) and man-made toxins (like chemicals, pollutants, and pharmaceutical agents). The liver has the unique ability to alter or break down these toxins, protecting the rest of the body.

Because of its central role, liver disease strikes at the very heart of the body's functions and processes, and can be life-threatening. You cannot live without a liver.

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What is Hepatitis C?

The Hepatitis C (HCV) virus was identified in 1989. Unlike the other types of viral hepatitis, hepatitis C is very difficult for the immune system to overcome.

As a result, most Hepatitis C infections (80-90%) become chronic and lead to liver disease, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver tissues) and liver failure. Hepatitis C infection is typically mild in its early stages, and it is rarely recognized until it has caused significant damage to the liver. The cycle of disease from infection to significant liver damage can take 20 years or more.

Risk factors for hepatitis C.

Blood transfusions account for nearly 10% of all cases of Hepatitis C. Prior to 1990, there were no tests for hepatitis C in donated blood, and the risk of infection was between 8 and 10%. Since 1993, risk has been negligible.

Almost any direct or indirect exposure to infected blood can transmit the virus. This includes I.V. drug use and poorly sterilized medical instruments, blood spills, unbandaged cuts or injuries, and tattooing or body piercing, as well as less obvious sources of blood, such as shared razors or toothbrushes, or body secretions (such as mucous) that may contain small amounts of blood. In about 10% of all cases, no risk factors have been identified.

Heterosexual and homosexual activity, particularly with multiple partners and in the absence of protective measures, can transmit the virus. Close contact between household members has also been implicated.

The symptoms of Hepatitis C are often very mild, at least in the early stages of infection and can be virtually undetectable. The most common symptom, commencing sometimes years after initial infection, is fatigue. Other symptoms include mild fever, muscle and joint aches, nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, vague abdominal pain, and sometimes diarrhea. Many cases go undiagnosed because the symptoms are suggestive of a flu-like illnesses which just come and go.

When the disease progresses and damages the liver badly enough, the symptoms become commensurate with cirrhosis and liver failure, including jaundice, abdominal swelling (due to fluid retention called ascites),and finally coma.

There is no vaccine for Hepatitis C at present, and because of the virus's frequent mutation, it may be a long time before one becomes available. However, because of Hepatitis C's slowly progressive infection, some infected patients have long life expectancies, and with proper treatment, some of them can recover completely.

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Hepatitis C - Defined

Hepatitis C is a "virus" that attacks the liver and destroys liver cells.

Hepatitis C is also known as HCV, which is short for "Hepatitis C Virus."

HCV is blood-borne, which means that it is contracted only through blood-to-blood contact.

HCV is a progressive disease that can destroy the liver over time.

A person can go for 10 or 20 years before chronic symptoms appear, but by that time the virus has possibly done some major damage to the liver.

Usually people with HCV do not know they have the disease until the virus has already done some damage to the liver. This is one of the reasons that HCV advocate groups try to raise public awareness of this disease.

Another reason for public awareness is that at least 3 million people in the United States presently have HCV.

HCV may cause scarring to the liver. Fibrosis is the stage of liver disease that comes before Cirrhosis.

HCV accounts for "most" liver transplants.

HCV is a "serious" liver disease that can eventually lead to liver failure and death.

Someone said that a person has a better chance of getting a liver transplant if they were in an automobile accident than if they have HCV. This is one of the reasons why we need public awareness and help.

Because liver transplants are so "expensive" (to say the least), and the waiting lists are extremely long. Some insurance companies do "not" cover organ transplants. Also, if we are not on a transplant list and our liver fails any of us who have this virus, then the chances of survival are 2nd to none. Although now they're coming out with partial liver transplants that look extremely hopeful.

And HCV becomes debilitating when you've had it for 10 or 20 years, and maybe for some, even after just a few years.

There is a point where people cannot function like a normal, healthy person and HCV needs to be recognized as a disease that disables people, "because it does that to some people."

And there's a point where you feel as if you just can't go on anymore in your every day life... It is extremely awful to feel that bad physically with the debilitating fatigue and body pains... And unless you've been there, you cannot fully understand how it feels to have a diseased liver.

"Some people" say that many people affected with Hepatitis C, don't feel any symptoms of HCV. That is true for some, but for others, they have many of the symptoms. And many people have other diseases that run "concurrently" with their HCV.

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Hepatitis C - Undefined

HCV is NOT an air-borne disease.

You cannot catch HCV by talking with someone or by shaking hands with a person who has HCV.

There are some doctors that believe that HCV can be contracted via sex, while many doctors do not believe that it can be. Still other doctors believe that "blood" must be involved in the sexual act for HCV to be contracted; for instance, in a "rape" situation where skin tissue is torn, or via "menstruation" in an HCV infected female while having sex; however, these are "merely" opinions and have not been confirmed as facts.

More research about HCV and sex needs to be done before anyone's speculations or opinions can ever be confirmed as facts. There are other diseases that have been proven to be Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD's) that can have detrimental consequences to a person's health and ultimately lead to death.

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Hepatitis C - Symptoms

Source: 1996: Matthew Dolan, "The Hepatitis C Handbook" p9-This is a list of common symptoms reported by patients.
· Flulike illness; alternate chills and fever
· Stabbing pains in the liver region
· Indigestion
· Irritable bowel syndrome
· Joint pains
· Vivid dreams, night sweats
· Depression, mood swings, seasonal affective disorder
· Chronic fatigue or sudden attacks of exhaustion
· Adverse reactions to alcohol
· Abdominal bloating
· Frequent urination, often during the night
· Loss of appetite
· Aversion to fatty foods
· Itchy skin
· diarrhea
· Mental fatigue, frequent or continuous headache
· cognitive dysfunction, attention deficit disorder, "brain fog"
· Irregular or poor sleep quality, not feeling rested after sleep
· Chest pains, palpitations
· Pronounced fluid retention
· Puffy face
· Swellings under armpits, in the groin area, and around the neck
· Blood sugar disorders
· Dizziness and peripheral vision problems, such as "floaters"
· Sleep dust in the eyes, eyesight difficulties
· Small red patterns of inflamed blood vessels known as "spider naevi"
· Numbness in peripheral regions of the body

*Women also report particular additional symptoms; such as, Irregular menstral cycles, severe premenstrual tension, additional menopause-related problems, and lower libido.

*Special thanks and my deepest gratitude to the people (you know who you are) who helped me put this page together.*


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