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Alternative Names Return to topNon-A or non-B hepatitis
Definition Return to top
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that leads to swelling (inflammation) of the liver.
Causes Return to top
Hepatitis C infection is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV). People who may be at risk for hepatitis C are those who:
Other hepatitis virus infections include hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Each viral hepatitis infection is caused by a different virus.
Symptoms Return to top
Many people who are infected with the hepatitis C do not have symptoms.
If the infection has been present for many years, the liver may be permanently scarred, a condition called cirrhosis. In many cases, there may be no symptoms of the disease until cirrhosis has developed.
The following symptoms could occur with hepatitis C infection:
Exams and Tests Return to top
Hepatitis C is often found during blood tests for a routine physical or other medical procedure.
Treatment Return to top
There is no cure for hepatitis C, but medications in some cases can suppress the virus for a long period of time.
Some patients with hepatitis C benefit from treatment with interferon alpha or a combination of interferon alpha and ribavirin. Interferon alpha is given by injection just under the skin and has a number of side effects, including:
Treatment with interferon alpha may also affect the production of white blood cells and platelets. Most patients receive weekly injections with a form called pegylated interferon alpha. Interferon is given along with antiviral medication, most commonly ribavirin.
Ribavirin is a capsule taken twice daily. The major side effect is low red blood cells (anemia). Ribavirin also causes birth defects. Women should avoid getting pregnant during, and for 6 months following, treatment.
A "sustained response" means that the patient remains free of hepatitis C virus 6 months after stopping treatment. This does not mean that the patient is cured, but that the levels of active hepatitis C virus in the body are very low and are probably not causing more or as much damage.
Rest may be recommended during the acute phase of the disease when the symptoms are most severe. All patients with hepatitis C should get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
People with hepatitis C should also be careful not to take vitamins, nutritional supplements, or new over-the-counter medications without first discussing it with their health care provider.
People with hepatitis C should avoid any substances that are toxic to the liver (hepatotoxic), including alcohol. Even moderate amounts of alcohol speed up the progression of hepatitis C, and alcohol reduces the effectiveness of treatment.
Support Groups Return to top
You can often ease the stress of illness by joining a support group of people who share common experiences and problems. See liver disease - resources.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Hepatitis C is one of the most common causes of chronic liver disease in the United States today. People with this condition may have:
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call your provider if symptoms of hepatitis develop, or if you believe you have been exposed to the hepatitis C virus.
Prevention Return to top
Avoid contact with blood or blood products whenever possible. Health care workers should follow precautions when handling blood and bodily fluids.
Do not inject illicit drugs, and especially do not share needles with anyone. Be careful when getting tattoos and body piercings.
Sexual transmission is low among stable, monogamous couples. A partner should be screened for hepatitis C. If the partner is negative, the current recommendations are to make no changes in sexual practices.
People who have sex outside of a monogamous relationship should practice safer sex behaviors to avoid hepatitis C as well as sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and hepatitis B.
Currently there is no vaccine for hepatitis C.
References Return to top
Shiffman ML, Suter F, Bacon BR, et al. Peginterferon alfa-2a and ribavirin for 16 or 24 weeks in HCV genotype 2 or 3. N Engl J Med. 2007;357:124-134.
Wong T, Lee SS. Hepatitis C: a review for primary care physicians. CMAJ. 2006;174:649-659.
Rocca LG, et al. Management of patients with hepatitis C in a community setting: diagnosis, discussions and decisions to treat. Ann Fam Med. 2004;2:116-124.Update Date: 2/20/2008 Updated by: Christian Stone, MD, Division of Gastroenterology, Washington University in St. Louis, School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.