Hepatitis C is an infection caused by a virus that attacks the liver and causes liver inflammation. It is one of the several types of hepatitis viruses and it is considered one of the most serious viruses.
Hepatitis C is spread through contact with contaminated blood most commonly through shared needles during use of illegal drugs.
Most hepatitis C cases show no symptoms until the infection is chronic and liver damage occurs.
Symptoms of early stage hepatitis C infection include:
- Poor appetite
- Stomach pain
- Dark urine
- Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
Symptoms of chronic hepatitis C:
- Bleeding easily
- Bruising easily
- Weight loss
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs
- Fluid accumulation in the abdomen (ascites)
- Confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech (hepatic encephalopathy)
- Spider-like blood vessels on the skin (spider angiomas)
Hepatitis C virus is most commonly spread through contact with contaminated blood.
Risk factors for hepatitis C include:
- Being exposed to infected blood
- Injecting or inhaling illegal drugs
- Getting a piercing or tattoo in unclean environment or using unsterile equipment
- Being a recipient of blood transfusion or organ transplant before 1992
- Received clotting factor concentrates before 1987
- Long-term hemodialysis treatments
- Being born by a woman infected with hepatitis C
- Spending time in prison
Untreated hepatitis C infection can cause the following complications:
- Scarring of liver tissue (cirrhosis): Cirrhosis can occur after 20 to 30 years of the infection and can cause difficulties in liver functions.
- Liver cancer: In rare cases, hepatitis C infection can cause liver cancer.
- Liver failure due to a severely damaged liver.
Precautions to prevent hepatitis C infection:
- Avoid and stop using illegal drugs
- Receive piercing and tattoos in a clean and sterile environment
- Practice safe sex