Newly diagnosed patients have many questions and need credible medical information and support as they learn more about Hepatitis C, treatment and what steps to take next.
The 1st step after being diagnosed is learning what is hepatitis C.
The term Hepatitis means inflammatory or infection of the liver which can be caused by chemicals, drugs or viruses.
There are five viruses labeled A through E. Viruses A and E can be contracted from contaminated water or food, while viruses B, C, D are transmitted by direct contact into the bloodstream.
Heavy alcohol use, toxins, and certain medical conditions can also cause hepatitis. Hepatitis C is caused by a virus that attacks the liver causing damage and function impairment.
When first infected a person can develop what is known as an “acute” infection, which can range in severity from very mild with few or no symptoms to a serious condition. Acute means a short term illness that lasts within a short amount of time.
According to the Center of Disease Control and Prevention, 15%-25% of people “clear” the virus without treatment. Approximately 75%-85% of people who become infected with the Hepatitis C virus develop “chronic,” or lifelong, infection.
Chronic meaning it is a long term condition. Chronic Hepatitis C can lead to serious liver damage including liver function impairment, liver scarring (cirrhosis), liver cancer or liver failure. It is estimated that over 4 million Americans have Chronic Hepatitis C (HCV).
Worldwide, approximately 175 million people have HCV. Most people do not know they are infected. It is known as the “silent killer” due to symptoms do not appear for some time and often mask other conditions. Hepatitis C virus is one of the highest causes of chronic liver disease and liver transplants in the United States.
The 2nd step is finding a physician who specializes in liver disease.
A physician who specializes in liver disease is a Hepatologist. A Gastroenterologist is a physician who specializes in the stomach, colon, liver, etc… both physicians are equipped and knowledgeable in Hepatitis C. See What is a Hepatologist?
If you have medical insurance, check to see who is on your insurance coverage and look for recommendations. You can also try contacting local University Hospitals for recommendations or the American Liver Foundation to use their physician locator service. If you do not have medical insurance you can refer to: What To Do If You Can’t Afford Hepatitis C Treatment or Don’t Have Medical Insurance for resources.
The 3rd step is learning what tests are needed. These tests are important in determining your liver condition and which Hepatitis C treatment is best suited for you. Talk to your physician about tests you will need to take.
Your doctor will do a physical exam to evaluate your overall health and do additional tests to check your liver. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention there are several different tests your doctor may order:
- Two blood tests are done to confirm if you have Hepatitis C. The first blood test looks for “antibodies” to the Hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are released into your bloodstream when a person becomes infected. If the test comes back positive for HCV antibodies then a second blood test is done to confirm by looking for the presence of the Hepatitis C virus. If this test comes back positive it means the Hepatitis C virus is currently in the blood.
- Liver Function tests, also called a liver panel which is a specific blood tests to determine if your liver enzyme levels are elevated, this shows how well your liver is working.
- A genotype test that determines the type of Hepatitis C virus strain you have.
- A viral load test (RNA) is done to determine the amount of virus present in your body.
- An ultrasound exam that shows a visual image of your liver.
- A liver biopsy, which is removal of a tiny bit of your liver, to see if there is structural damage.
- A FibroScan, which is also called, transient elastography. It is a non-invasive procedure. No needles or IV’s are used. The technology measures the velocity of the sound wave passing through the liver and then converts that measurement into a liver stiffness measurement. This helps grade the liver condition for damage. A Fibroscan is most often done in place of a liver biopsy.
- MRI or CAT scan’s may also be done, depending on your physicians recommendations.
As a patient, you have the right to copies of all your test, medical reports and records. Patients need to be aware of how to manage the disease, transmission prevention and move forward with treatment.
The 4th step is learning which Hepatitis C treatment is best suited for you and what are common treatment side effects.
The results of all of your tests, physical exam, medical history and any existing medical conditions will help your physician recommend which Hepatitis C treatment is best suited for you.
Treatment for Hepatitis C has greatly improved over the years, no longer with harsh side effects of older treatments. Interferon is no longer used with treatment. There are more treatment options available for all genotypes (virus strains) than ever before.
The most common treatment side effects today are fatigue, and headache, with possible brief period of insomnia, other side effects may occur like nausea but are less common. All side effects can vary but many often cycle out during treatment and recovery. See Listing of all current Hepatitis C Medications.
Be sure to talk to your physician about your medical condition and all medications you take as well as vitamin/supplements and herbs you take prior to starting treatment. Report all side effects you experience to your physician.
It’s important to note many patients report not experiencing any side effects. This is not necessarily common, but it can happen especially with improved treatments. Your physician can prescribe what is best to help with side effects in case you experience any.
Have you been newly diagnosed with Hepatitis C or waiting for treatment? Do you have a question about Hepatitis C, treatment, or liver disease? Where are you at in your Hepatitis C journey?
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To view this post or other resources, see our home page at, Life Beyond Hep C.
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