Hep C (hepatitis C) is an infection and inflammation of the liver. There are several types of infectious hepatitis, caused by different viruses.
Hepatitis C is a form of hepatitis that can cause an acute or chronic infection that can lead to liver damage and severe scarring (cirrhosis) of the liver and an increased risk of liver cancer.
Medications for hepatitis C are effective on certain forms of the hepatitis C virus. The choice of medications depends on:
- The type of hepatitis C
- If you have been treated for hep C before
- The amount of liver damage that has occurred
- Other underlying medical issues that may be present
- Other medications you take
Treatment for hepatitis C usually involves 8 to 12 weeks of oral antiviral medications, such as:
- Elbasvir-grazoprevir (Zepatier)
- Glecaprevir-pibrentasvir (Mavyret)
- Ledipasvir-sofosbuvir (Harvoni)
- Peginterferon alfa-2a (Pegasys)
- Peginterferon alfa-2b (Pegintron)
- Ribavirin (Copegus, Rebetol, Ribasphere)
- Sofosbuvir (Sovaldi)
- Sofosbuvir-velpatasvir (Epclusa)
- Sofosbuvir-velpatasvir-voxilaprevir (Vosevi)
Treatments for hep C are easy and effective. They tend to have few side effects and can treat all genotypes of the virus. Most people can perform their normal, everyday activities while undergoing treatment.
When hep C treatment ends, some people feel better within weeks after stopping medications. However, many will still have some side effects of medications for days or weeks, and others will need extended time to heal.
- Three months after finishing treatment for hep C, people will need a PCR viral detection test to check if they are cured.
- If people are cured, they may still have existing liver damage and may experience symptoms related to that. Damage to the liver may be irreversible.
- In about five percent of cases, treatment does not cure hep C. Patients are usually referred to a liver specialist (hepatologist) for consultation. It may be possible to repeat the same treatment or use a different treatment drug.
What Are Symptoms of Hep C?
Most people with hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. When symptoms of hepatitis C occur, they may include:
- Flu-like illness early on
- Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice)
- Dark-colored urine
- Light- or clay-colored stools
- Loss of appetite
- Pain under the ribs on the right side of the abdomen
- Joint pain
- Muscle aches
- Weight loss
Over time, hepatitis C infections can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis). Symptoms of cirrhosis include:
What Is the Main Cause of Hep C?
Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can be transmitted through infected blood or body fluids that contain blood. Exposure may occur from:
- Injection-drug use (the most common way HCV is transmitted in the U.S.)
- Birth to an HCV-infected mother
Less frequently, hepatitis C can be spread through:
- Sexual activity with an HCV-infected person (uncommon)
- People who have a sexually transmitted infection (STI), have sex with multiple partners, and engage in anal sex appear are at increased risk for contracting hepatitis C
- Sharing personal items contaminated with blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
- Invasive medical procedures, such as injections
- Needlestick injuries in healthcare settings
- Unregulated tattooing
- Receipt of donated blood, blood products, and organs
- Rare in the U.S. since blood screening became available in 1992
How Is Hep C Diagnosed?
Viral hepatitis is diagnosed with a patient history, a physical examination, and blood tests. A blood test called an HCV antibody test (sometimes called the anti-HCV test) can show if someone has ever been infected with the hepatitis C virus.
If the HCV antibody tests are positive, there may be a follow-up HCV RNA test to determine if an active infection is present.
Other tests may be indicated to check for liver damage, including:
- Liver scan
- Liver biopsy
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