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 is the role of a liver biopsy in the management of chronic hepatitis C?
Blood tests can tell the clinician whether HCV is present but cannot tell the level of liver damage that has occurred. Liver biopsy allows the clinician to determine how much inflammation and scarring is present by examining a small sample of liver tissue. Liver biopsy gives information useful in the decision to initiate therapy. Significant liver damage is a risk factor for other conditions such as hepatocellular carcinoma and esophageal varices. Liver biopsy may be recommended when the clinician is uncertain about whether to begin treatment or wishes to monitor the response within the liver to therapy.
It is possible to measure liver stiffness with transient elastography, a non-invasive test. Stiffer livers mean that advanced liver fibrosis may be present. However such tests do not completely replace the need for liver biopsy in routine clinical practice.
Several batteries of blood tests also have been found to be useful in diagnosing cirrhosis; however, like transient elastography, these tests have not completely replaced the need for liver biopsy.
What is the treatment for hepatitis C infection?
Hepatitis C does not always require treatment. There are 6 genotypes of hepatitis C and they may respond differently to treatment. Careful screening is necessary before starting the treatment to determine the most appropriate approach for the patient.
Combination antiviral therapy with interferon and ribavirin has been the mainstay of hepatitis C treatment. Unfortunately, interferon is not widely available globally, it is not always well tolerated, some virus genotypes respond better to interferon than others, and many people who take interferon do not finish their treatment. This means that while hepatitis C is generally considered to be a curable disease, for many people this is not a reality.
Scientific advances have led to the development of new antiviral drugs for hepatitis C, which may be more effective and better tolerated than existing therapies. Two new therapeutic agents telaprevir and boceprevir have recently been licensed in some countries. Much needs to be done to ensure that these advances lead to greater access and treatment globally.
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