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What is hepatitis?

Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. Inflammation causes soreness and swelling. Hepatitis can be caused by many things. Lack of blood supply to the liver, poison, autoimmune disorders, an injury to the liver, and taking some medicines can cause hepatitis. However, hepatitis is most commonly caused by a virus.

There are 2 main kinds of hepatitis, acute hepatitis and chronic hepatitis. When a person has hepatitis, the liver may become inflamed very suddenly. This is called acute hepatitis. If you have acute hepatitis, you might have nausea, vomiting, fever and body aches. Or you may not have any symptoms. Most people get over the acute inflammation in a few days or a few weeks. Sometimes, however, the inflammation doesn't go away. When the inflammation doesn't go away, the person has chronic hepatitis.

How does hepatitis affect the liver?

The liver breaks down waste products in your blood. When the liver is inflamed, it doesn't do a good job of getting rid of waste products. One waste product in the blood, called bilirubin (say "billy-roo-bin"), begins to build up in the blood and tissues when the liver isn't working right. The bilirubin makes the skin of a person with hepatitis turn a yellow-orange color. This is called jaundice (say "john-dis"). Bilirubin and other waste products may also cause itching, nausea, fever and body aches.

What is hepatitis C?

There are 3 viruses that cause hepatitis. Each hepatitis virus is named with a letter of the alphabet: hepatitis A, hepatitis B and hepatitis C. Hepatitis C is usually spread through contact with blood products, like accidentally being stuck with a dirty (used) needle, using IV drugs and sharing needles, or getting a blood transfusion before 1992. Most people don't feel sick when they are first infected with hepatitis C. Instead, the virus stays in their liver and causes chronic liver inflammation.

Most people who are infected with hepatitis C don't have any symptoms for years. However, hepatitis C is a chronic illness (it doesn't go away). If you have hepatitis C, you need to be watched carefully by a doctor because it can lead to cirrhosis (a liver disease) and liver cancer.

I've never used IV drugs or been stuck with a dirty needle. How did I get hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is usually spread through direct contact with the blood of a person who has the disease. Many times, the cause of hepatitis C is never found. Sharing razors or toothbrushes can transmit the hepatitis C virus. It can be transmitted by needles used for tattooing or body piercing. It can even be passed from a mother to her unborn baby. This virus can be transmitted through sex, but this is rare. All of these ways of catching hepatitis C are uncommon, but they do occur.

Hepatitis C can't be spread unless a person has direct contact with infected blood. This means a person who has hepatitis C can't pass the virus to others through casual contact such as sneezing, coughing, shaking hands, hugging, kissing, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, swimming in a pool, using public toilets or touching doorknobs.

Could I give hepatitis C to someone else?

Yes, as far as we know, once you have hepatitis C, you can always give it to someone else. If you have hepatitis C, you can't donate blood. You should avoid sharing personal items like razors and toothbrushes. Always use a condom when you have sex. If you have hepatitis C, your sex partners should be tested to see if they also have it.

Talk to your doctor first if you want to have children. The virus isn't spread easily by sexual contact or from a mother to her unborn baby. If you're trying to have a baby, don't have sex during the menstrual cycle, because the hepatitis C virus spreads more easily in menstrual blood.

How should I take care of myself if I have hepatitis C?

You should eat a healthy diet and start exercising regularly. A dietitian can help you plan a diet that is healthy and practical. Talk to your doctor about medications that you are taking, including over-the-counter medications. Many medicines, including acetaminophen (brand name: Tylenol) are broken down by the liver and may increase the speed of liver damage. It is very important that you drink only a minimal amount of alcohol. An occasional alcoholic drink is probably OK, but check with your doctor first.

Is there a vaccine for hepatitis C?

No, not for hepatitis C. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B. If you have hepatitis C, your doctor may want you to take the vaccine for hepatitis B (and maybe the vaccine for hepatitis A), if you don't already have these viruses. If you have hepatitis C, you are more likely to catch hepatitis A or hepatitis B, and that would cause more damage to your liver.

General information, questions and answers about Hepatitis C.  (SOURCE: familydoctor.org, USA)

 

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