Liver Facts and Hep C

What is the function of the liver?

 The liver is a vital organ meaning, you need it in order to sustain life.  It is the second largest organ in your body.  It is located under your rib cage on the right side of your abdomen.  It weighs about three pounds and is shaped like a football that is flat on one side.

The liver performs many functions in your body.  Its primary function is to process everything you eat, drink, breathe and absorb through your skin.  It serves your body like an engine, filter, refinery plant, and storage house. It converts nutrients from your food for vital functions for muscles, energy, hormones, clotting factors and immune factors.

It stores certain vitamins, minerals (including iron) and sugars, regulates fat stores, and controls the production and excretion of cholesterol.  It also produces bile which helps you digest food and absorb nutrients.

It detoxifies poisonous substances and metabolizes alcohol. It aids your immune system by helping you resist infection and removes bacteria from your blood.  It’s your body’s power house.

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.

Talk to your Doctor about Risk Factor

The American Liver Foundation states these are the highest risk factors for HCV

  • If you have ever had a blood transfusion or organ transplant prior to July 1992
  • Shared needles or other equipment to inject drugs or inhaled drugs (even once)
  • Received a clotting factor made before 1987
  • Have ever had hemodialysis
  •  HCV-contaminated needle-stick in a hospital or healthcare environment
  • Have ever worked or been housed in a prison
  • Have HIV
  • Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person with HCV enters the body of someone who is not infected.
  • Borrowed razors, toothbrushes
  • Born to an HCV-infected mother
  • Tattoos or body piercing with reused unsterile tools
  • Multiple sex partners or sex with partners who have other sexually transmitted  disease.
  • Some people may never know where they contracted HCV

 

What are the symptoms of Hepatitis C?

Symptoms of Hepatitis C can mask other conditions.  Symptoms of Hepatitis C can occur as early as six to 12 weeks of contact with the virus or may not appear for many years.

The most common symptoms are mild flu like- fatigue, poor appetite, nausea, fever, chills, headaches, abdominal pain, dark urine, and joint pain.  But many patients have no symptoms.

If you know you have had exposure to any of the above risk factors, or you develop any of these symptoms, consult your doctor and ask to be tested.

References:

American Liver Foundation/Support Guide for the Newly Diagnosed

Center for Disease Control & Prevention

UT Southwestern Clinical Center for Liver Disease

Hepatitis Foundation International

Mayo Clinic