Signs of Hepatitis C
Typically spread through contact with blood from an infected person, hepatitis C is a viral infection that causes inflammation and damage to the liver.
A person’s body can sometimes fight off the infection, allowing the virus to go away on its own—an occurrence known as an acute hepatitis infection. However, more than half of people with hepatitis C will develop a chronic, long-term infection, which can lead to serious health problems such as fatty liver disease or liver cancer. Know the signs of hepatitis C and how you can detect the disease at an early, more treatable stage.
Early signs of hepatitis C
People with chronic hepatitis C infection will likely not have any symptoms for decades. In some cases, however, early signs may occur within one to three months of infection. These include:
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal stools (gray or clay-colored stools)
- Dark yellow urine
- Jaundice (yellowish eyes and skin)
- Joint pain
- Lack of appetite
Who is at risk for infection?
Hepatitis C spreads through contact with infected blood. Today, most people become infected with hepatitis C by sharing needles or other materials used to inject drugs.
Other risk factors include:
- Being born to a mother with hepatitis C
- Certain sexual contact with someone who has the infection
- Exposure to blood from sharing an infected person’s razor, toothbrush or nail clippers
- Getting stuck with an unsterilized needle in a healthcare setting or at work
- Getting a tattoo or body piercing with unsterilized tools
- Having received a transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
You cannot get hepatitis C from respiratory droplets, drinking water, eating food, hugging or holding hands with an infected person, or sharing eating utensils. Babies cannot get infected with hepatitis C from breast milk.
Is hepatitis C treatable?
People with both acute and chronic infections should receive treatment. Thankfully, more hepatitis C treatment options exist today than ever before. Your doctor will likely recommend taking one or more antiviral medicines for 8–24 weeks. Antiviral medicines attack the virus and can cure hepatitis C for most people.
Detecting hepatitis C
While hepatitis C can be cured, many people don’t know they have the infection until it’s progressed and caused serious liver damage. Screening can help your doctor detect hepatitis C early. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends at least one hepatitis C screening for all adults ages 18 and older, and that all pregnant women be screened during each pregnancy. People with an increased risk, such as individuals who inject drugs, should have routine periodic tests for hepatitis C.
Your doctor may order any of these tests to diagnose hepatitis C or find out the extent of liver damage:
- Blood tests. A screening blood test can show if you have antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. Positive antibody tests indicate either current or prior exposure to hepatitis C. If you test positive, your doctor will order an additional blood test called a hepatitis C RNA test. This can show if you still have the virus and how much of it is in your blood.
- Liver biopsy. During this test, a doctor will use a needle to take a small piece of tissue from your liver. The tissue sample is sent to a lab and a pathologist checks for signs of damage or disease. Doctors typically order a liver biopsy only if blood tests don’t provide enough information about the disease.
- Ultrasound. This is a painless imaging test that uses sound waves to help your doctor view possible liver scarring caused by hepatitis C.
Don’t want a biopsy? A FibroScan is a painless alternative
Hepatitis C infection causes the liver to become inflamed and develop scar
tissue. Scar tissue can replace healthy liver tissue and prevent your liver from working normally. Biopsies allow your doctor to measure how much inflammation is in the liver, however, a biopsy involves making a cut to the skin to take the sample. FibroScan is a safer, nonsurgical alternative to a liver biopsy that uses elastography to measure the scarring in the liver.
FibroScan tests last about 15 minutes. During the test, you’ll lie on your back and a technologist will pass a small probe device over the right side of your abdomen. This probe will transmit sound waves and measure the speed at which they travel through the liver. This helps your doctor measure the amount of thickened scar tissue in your liver.
American Health Imaging (AHI) offers FibroScan as a painless, convenient option to check for liver damage.
If your doctor has ordered a FibroScan, request an appointment at AHI today.