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How Do I Know If I Have Or Might Have Hep C?

Hepatitis C is characterized by a group of symptoms that are indicative of liver disease. The physician investigates these symptoms, and a definite diagnosis is made through further testing. Accurate and concrete lab tests are available for the diagnosis of Hepatitis C.


The onset of symptoms and subsequent testing give a clear indication of the presence of Hepatitis C. Routine blood tests show both the antibodies against HCV and the viral RNA material of the HCV itself. Deranged lab values can point to the diagnosis of Hepatitis C in asymptomatic carriers.


It is essential to know that while there are definite tests available for diagnosing Hepatitis C, a physician might not jump directly to these tests without sequentially investigating the disease beforehand. However, once a definite diagnosis of Hepatitis C has been made, the treatment of Hepatitis C is pretty straightforward and results in complete and successful recovery in 8 to 12 weeks.


HOW TO KNOW IF YOU HAVE HEPATITIS C?

There are several ways to find out if you have Hepatitis C or not. Several symptoms point in the right direction. Even routine blood tests can provide positive indications for a Hepatitis C infection. However, a definite diagnosis of Hepatitis C can only be made through the use of specialized blood tests. 


Hepatitis C may present as simply the yellowing of your eyes and mucous membranes in the early stages of the disease. This yellowing of the sclera and the mucous membranes is called jaundice. Jaundice occurs due to increased serum bilirubin levels in part due to a problem with the liver. Jaundice is also often the first sign of liver disease. In the acute phase of the disease, jaundice, nausea, vomiting, and fever may present as the constituent symptoms. These symptoms contribute to the doctor as initial clues pointing to the diagnosis of Hepatitis C. 


Other symptoms of Hepatitis C include:

  • Bleeding from gums
  • Easy bruising
  • Easy fatigability
  • Decreased appetite
  • Itchy skin
  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Confusion, speech problems, delirium
  • Tremors associated with encephalitis
  • Leg swelling


Sometimes, however, patients even in the acute phase of the disease have no symptoms whatsoever. Other times these symptoms can be so mild that the patient ignores them. However, this asymptomatic stage of Hepatitis C lurks around hidden inside the body until the late stage of the disease appears. During the asymptomatic period, the only clue pointing towards a diagnosis of Hepatitis C might come from deranged lab values. Routine blood tests and other tests such as rrenal function test (RFTs) and liver function tests (LFTs) may show deranged values, thus, prompting the doctor towards further investigation.


Once a suspicion develops, your doctor will decide to evaluate further. It is here where the specialized tests for Hepatitis C come into play. These tests are blood tests that measure metrics directly related to the presence of HCV in your blood. One of these tests detects anti-HCV antibodies, while the other one detects the presence of viral RNA.


You will be required to take the anti-HCV antibody test to see if you have any signs of HCV presence in your blood. If the antibody test comes back as reactive, it means that you either have an ongoing HCV infection at the moment or you had an infection with the Hepatitis C virus in the past. These antibodies can also be present if you had a past Hepatitis C infection and had successful treatment for it. 


Once the presence of antibodies is confirmed, a more sophisticated test is employed to learn more about your disease. The HCV RNA test is a blood test that reveals the presence and quantity of the viral RNA in your blood. If the HCV RNA test is positive, it means that the antibody test was reactive for ongoing infection. If the HCV RNA test comes back negative, it means that the initial antibody test was only reactive for antibodies made in the past.


CAN HEPATITIS C BE CURED?

Yes. Hepatitis C can be cured thanks to the development of modern antiviral medication entirely. The DAAs, or the Direct-Acting Antiviral drugs, attack the viral RNA directly and get rid of it from the host body. Even though the antibodies made in response to the presence of the virus may hang around for ages after successful treatment, the viral load is destroyed by the use of these medications.


WHAT HAPPENS IF I DON’T GET TESTED FOR HEPATITIS C?

Not getting tested for Hepatitis C can result in severe complications for you as well as the people around you. Hepatitis C is a curable disease. With early diagnosis and prompt treatment, it is possible to eradicate the disease from your body completely. However, it can quickly turn into multiple severe complications in your body if the treatment is not adequate, or absent for that matter.


If the acute phase of Hepatitis C is not cured, it can transform into a chronic phase. The chronic phase of Hepatitis C is defined as Hepatitis C with a duration of at least 3 months. The chronic phase is associated with even more symptoms and the propensity to develop complete liver fibrosis, also known as liver cirrhosis. A cirrhotic liver is unable to perform normal liver functions and is a ticking time bomb as it almost invariably develops into hepatocellular carcinoma or leads to liver failure.


If you don't get tested for Hepatitis C and do not receive any treatment, you can carry the Hepatitis C virus for the rest of your life. This means that you put the lives of people around you in danger as well since they'll now have more chances of contracting the virus from you. Some of the ways through which you can transmit the virus to other people include:

  • Donating blood
  • Having unprotected sexual intercourse
  • Infecting other’s personal items with your blood
  • Biting them just a little too hard


IS THERE A VACCINE AVAILABLE FOR HEPATITIS C?

There is currently no vaccine available for Hepatitis C. However, there is one available for Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B and C can often co-exist and even act as risk factors for each other. Therefore, it is in your best interest to get vaccinated for Hepatitis B.


Although there is no successful vaccine for Hepatitis C, the treatment for Hepatitis C with DAAs is quite effective. Complete treatment for 8 to 12 weeks often results in the complete removal of the disease process from the body.


HEPATITIS C AND PREGNANCY

Hepatitis C in pregnancy is a growing problem around the world. 1 to 2.5% of pregnant women in the United States are infected with Hepatitis C. Having the Hep C virus during pregnancy carries a 5% chance of transmitting the virus to the baby. The virus can travel to the baby in the antepartum period and the peripartum period.


HCV in pregnancy raises two separate concerns: the health of the mother and the health of the baby. The mother is subjected to increased strain when a chronic disease like Hepatitis C is combined with pregnancy effects. Studies suggest that pregnant women infected with Hepatitis C are more likely to develop gestational diabetes.


The course of the pregnancy is adversely affected by a debilitating disease such as Hepatitis C. Babies born to HCV-positive mothers frequently show patterns of fetal growth restrictions and congenital abnormalities and are often delivered pre-term. These babies also have low birth weights and are more likely to suffer from fetal distress.


Intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy is also a common problem with HCV-positive pregnant women. The average incidence for ICP is 0.2% to 2%, but it can be as high as 20 times for HCV-positive expectant mothers.


However, it is essential to know that the rate of vertical transmission of HCV during pregnancy depends highly on the viral load. Vertical transmission is only considered a risk in HCV-positive pregnant women who have detectable virus levels in their blood.


Given the risks associated with Hepatitis C infections during pregnancy, it is recommended that all women who wish to conceive a child should be tested for Hepatitis C and B beforehand. If they turn out to be positive for these viruses, treatment with the appropriate medications is indicated before the conception of a child.


RELATED QUESTIONS

Q) Should Women Be Screened For HCV During Pregnancy?

According to the ACOG and CDC guidelines, pregnant women at an increased risk of developing Hepatitis C during pregnancy are supposed to be screened at their prenatal visits. If the initial screening test is negative, a second screening phase is carried out later in the pregnancy.


Q) Does HCV Treatment Cause Any Side Effects?

DAAs carry mild side effects such as nausea, vomiting, and headache. However, there are no severe complications of these medications. 


Q) Can I Transmit HCV To Other People Through My Breath?

No, HCV cannot be transmitted by your breath. People will have to come into contact directly with your infected blood for them to get infected as well.


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