Hepatitis C (HCV) — My nemesis. Though only 20-30% of HCV patients develop cirrhosis of the liver, it is one of the leading causes of liver transplants in America. There are a small percentage of patients that can clear the virus on their own within months of contracting HCV, but most develop the chronic form (meaning long term) Hepatitis C is a blood borne virus, it can be contracted at birth if the mother is HCV positive (Statistics for this is @ 1 in 20 births), blood transfusions before 1992, drug users that share needles (or items to snort drugs), people who work with blood products, sharing razors or toothbrushes with an HCV infected person, having unprotected sex with someone infected (though uncommon, chances increase if person is HIV infected or has multiple sex partners), or receiving a tattoo with contaminated instruments (again, uncommon if using a licensed, commercial facility).
Usually there are few or no symptoms at all when contracted. Some people (around 10%) may develop jaundice or flu like symptoms that clears up on its own. I myself, being born with HepC have always had unexplained stomach aches, fatigue, depression, and on occasion a bruised rib feeling (due to bouts of inflammation of the liver) After time… and I mean 1 to 3 decades, HCV can cause cirrhosis. Symptoms of cirrhosis caused by the Hepatitis C virus are: Abdominal pain (upper right side), Ascites, Portal Hypertension — a build up of pressure in the veins. (bleeding from stomach, esophagus, and rectum) I mostly had severe nosebleeds and even busted blood vessels in my eyes from time to time. Dark urine — and when I say dark, I mean like amber brown… not just like you forgot to drink water that day. Fatigue, fever, itching, jaundice, lack of appetite (watch this, because you need your nutrients more then ever now, if you can’t get food down, try juicing or Boost), nausea, vomiting, pale or clay-colored stools (I used to call mine ghooooost poo – I know, TMI Ricki, TMI)
There are no vaccines for the Hepatitis C virus. Current medical treatment includes a combination of the drug Ribavirin and Interferon, which has a higher chance of clearing the virus in certain genotypes, however, within the next few months a new drug will be added to the Interferon combo called Telaprevir (or Boceprevir) which improves the cure rate (even in those with Genotype 1A — like me) to 75%, and may even cut the treatment time in half, which will help those who were previously unable to complete the 12 to 18 month treatment due to their grueling side effects.
For those who do develop cirrhosis from the Hep C virus, progression cannot be stopped, but it can be slowed by stopping any drug or alcohol use (that includes many prescribed and over the counter meds. Some prescribed drugs can be switched to something less harmful to the liver. I personally do not take anything over the counter unless absolutely necessary, even fevers can usually be reduced just by the use of ice packs) Proper diet and exercise are also key in helping keep your liver healthy for as long as possible.
The last line of defense is a liver transplant, however, HCV will always return, sometimes damaging the liver much faster then it did the first time around. Also, be aware that treating Hep C after transplant is much more difficult and the cure rate is reduced to about 20% with the Ribavirin/Interferon treatment (New drugs have not been tested on post-transplant patients and will probably not be available for a while)
I may be a little biased because my “summary” on the Hep C virus is a little long, so this will now be a trilogy… next being on Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (another one of the most common causes of liver disease) and Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (also known as NASH – quickly becoming a leading cause of liver disease due to the diets of Americans)
Completely off the subject, a little note on myself (and excuse for my lack of writing, tehehe) As you may know, in July I received my second gift of life, a partial liver transplant. Since then I have been in the hospital more then I have been home. On the 9th of January I was admitted yet again, and it was discovered that I had CMV (a common virus that is very dangerous for us transplant patients) as well as a stricture in my bile duct causing bile to back up. I had been suffering from the symptoms of these since mid October, but am happy to say that today may be my last day in the hospital!! (Well, for this stay) and besides a new drain sticking out between my ribs, I am feeling so much better. I will have this drain for about 6 months, and I still have to bring up my weight (I was Mal-nourished when I came in, and as of right now am barely tipping the scale at 111lbs.) All other symptoms are long gone, and I will be celebrating my 30th birthday in 2 weeks with no complaints! 🙂
This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.