Hepatitis C (cont.)
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP
Mary D. Nettleman, MD, MS, MACP is the Chair of the Department of Medicine at Michigan State University. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt Medical School, and completed her residency in Internal Medicine and a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Indiana University.
In this Article
- Hepatitis C infection (HCV, hep C) facts
- What is hepatitis C infection?
- What is the nature (biology) of the hepatitis C virus?
- How does liver damage occur in hepatitis C infection?
- How is hepatitis C virus spread, is it contagious, and how can transmission be prevented?
- What are the symptoms of hepatitis C infection?
- What conditions outside the liver are associated with hepatitis C infection?
- What is the usual progression of chronic hepatitis C infection?
- Who is at high risk and should be tested for hepatitis C infection?
- What are the diagnostic tests for hepatitis C virus and how are they used to diagnose hepatitis C infection?
- What is the role of a liver biopsy in the management of chronic hepatitis C infection?
- What is the treatment for hepatitis C infection?
- Who should receive antiviral therapy for hepatitis C infection?
- What are the different patterns of response to antiviral treatment?
- What are the goals of therapy for hepatitis C infection?
- What are the therapy options for previously untreated patients with chronic hepatitis C infection?
- How are relapses and nonresponders treated?
- Should individuals with acute hepatitis C infection be treated?
- What are the side effects of treatment for hepatitis C infection?
- What about liver transplantation for hepatitis C infection?
- What is the current research and what is in the future for hepatitis C infection?
- Find a local Gastroenterologist in your town
What are the symptoms of hepatitis C infection?
About 75% of people have no symptoms when they first acquire HCV infection. The remaining 25% may complain of fatigue, loss of appetite, muscle aches or fever. Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) is rare at this early stage of infection.
Over time, people with chronic infection may begin to experience the effects of the persistent inflammation of the liver caused by the immune reaction to the virus. Blood tests may show elevated levels of liver enzymes, a sign of liver damage, which is often the first suggestion that the infection may be present. Patients may become easily fatigued or complain of nonspecific symptoms.
As cirrhosis develops, symptoms increase and may include:
- loss of appetite,
- weight loss,
- breast enlargement in men,
- a rash on the palms,
- difficulty with the clotting of blood, and
- spider-like blood vessels on the skin.
In patients with advanced cirrhosis, the liver begins to fail. This is a life-threatening problem. Confusion and even coma (encephalopathy) may result from the inability of the liver to process certain toxic substances.
Increased pressure in the blood vessels of the liver (portal hypertension) may cause fluid to build up in the abdominal cavity (ascites) and result in engorged veins in the swallowing tube (esophageal varices) that tear easily and can bleed suddenly and massively. Portal hypertension also can cause kidney failure or an enlarged spleen resulting in a decrease of blood cells and the development of (anemia), or the development of low platelets (thrombocytopenia), which can promote bleeding.
In advanced cirrhosis, liver failure causes decreased production of clotting factors. Patients with advanced cirrhosis often develop jaundice because the damaged liver is unable to eliminate a yellow compound, called bilirubin that is formed from the hemoglobin of old red blood cells.
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