Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver.
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Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). The hepatitis C virus is spread through contact with the blood of an infected person.
A woman with hepatitis can pass the virus on to her baby during birth. The hepatitis C virus is not spread through food or water.
Factors that may increase your chance of hepatitis C include: Injecting illicit drugs, especially with shared needlesReceiving a blood transfusion before 1992—this risk is low in the United StatesReceiving blood clotting products before 1987Receiving an HCV-infected organ transplantLong-term kidney dialysis treatmentSharing toothbrushes, razors, nail clippers, or other personal hygiene items that have HCV-infected blood on themBeing accidentally stuck by an HCV-infected needle—a concern for healthcare workersFrequent contact with HCV-infected people—a concern for healthcare workersTattooingBody piercingHaving sex with partners who have hepatitis C or other sexually transmitted diseases
Most people with hepatitis C do not have symptoms. Over time, the disease can cause serious liver damage.
Symptoms may include: FatigueLoss of appetite
Yellowing of the eyes and skinDarker colored urineLoose, light, or chalky colored stoolsAbdominal painAches and painsItching
Joint painCigarette smokers may suddenly dislike the taste of cigarettesNauseaVomiting
Chronic hepatitis C may cause some of the above symptoms, as well as: WeaknessSevere fatigueLoss of appetite
Serious complications of hepatitis C include:
Chronic infection that will lead to
(scarring) and progressive liver failure
Increased risk of
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. You will also discuss your risk factors.
Your bodily fluids and tissues may be tested. This can be done with: Blood tests
biopsy—tissue is examined under a microscope
Your liver function may be evaluated. This can be done with liver function studies.
Images may be needed of your liver. This can be done with an ultrasound.
Hepatitis C is usually treated with combined therapy, consisting of: Medication to boost the immune systemAntiviral medications
You will be advised to stop drinking alcohol and smoking, which can further damage your liver, especially when undergoing treatment. If you have problems stopping alcohol, your doctor can refer you to counseling or a treatment program. There are several ways to successfully
In unsuccessful cases, chronic hepatitis C can cause cirrhosis and serious liver damage. A liver transplant may be needed, although it does not typically cure hepatitis C.
To prevent becoming infected with hepatitis C:
Do not inject illegal drugs. Shared needles have the highest risk. Seek help to
stop using drugs
Do not have sex with partners who have sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Practice safe sex (using latex
condoms) or abstain from sex.
Limit your number of sexual partners.
Do not share personal items that might have blood on them, such as:
RazorsToothbrushesManicuring toolsPierced earringsAvoid handling items that may be contaminated by HCV-infected blood.Donate your own blood before elective surgery to be used if you need a blood transfusion.Go to regular check ups and get tested for hepatitis C and other STDs as advised.
To prevent spreading hepatitis C to others if you are infected: Tell your dentist and physician before receiving check-ups or treatment.
Get both a
Do not donate blood or organs for transplant.
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Last reviewed August 2015 by Daus Mahnke, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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